The Tucson Roadrunners’ inaugural season ended Saturday night with a 6-5 overtime win over Stockon. They’ve now made it as far as the 1975 Tucson Mavericks, 1979 Tucson Rustlers and 1998 Tucson Gila Monsters — one season in the books. The Roadrunners drew about double the 2,000 fans-per-game average of Tucson’s pro hockey teams from decades past, and look to be in good shape moving forward.
To the skeptical, the non-believers, the cynical, this is just another hockey team. It exists only to sell hot dogs, beer, and T-shirts.
That is pure hogwash.
The Tucson Roadrunners are, indeed, a commercial proposition. They need to sell tickets. They need to make a buck.
But the ultimate role of this hockey team for Tucson, whether anyone believes it or not, has nothing to do with the almighty dollar.
The Tucson Roadrunners are dream makers.
The screams of joy from the hundred fans gathered outside the home locker room following the Roadrunners’ April 1 home finale helped explain that dream to me. Kids and parents alike went bonkers as their hockey heroes appeared through the locker room doors. I whipped around with each burst of applause and adulation. Did The Beatles just arrive?
No, it was just some players, wearing “Tucson” across their chest.
Also waiting at the locker room door was Yuki Nagasawa, a super-fan from California. Tiny and shy, she traveled by herself to Tucson just to be in the arena for the last weekend of Roadrunners home games. Nagasawa, who is blind, listened loyally to the team radio broadcasts all season long from her Oakland home; she fell in love with the spirit of a new team in faraway Arizona.
She stood in a Roadrunners jersey, waiting patiently for her Twitter friend, AHL rookie sensation Kyle Wood, to appear. Soon, he was there in front of her. The all-star defensemen stood a full foot and a half taller than the nervous fan. It took Wood a moment to comprehend that she came all the way from California just to say hello to him and cheer on his teammates.
He bent down and smiled at her, shook her hand and thanked her.
Nagasawa broke into a smile that would not disappear. The fans screamed again at the sight of another hockey player. She could not see any of them, but she shared their joy.
The Roadrunners made her dream come true.
This new hockey team also carries the dreams of young people who one day hope to work professionally in sports. At the same locker room door that night was Daniel Hennessy, a fledgling reporter for his middle-school newspaper. He dreamed of one day walking into the locker room with other reporters to interview the Roadrunners.
A media credential appeared around his neck the night of the last home game, and Daniel tentatively walked into the cluttered, busy locker room. The Roadrunners had just dropped their final home game, and it’s always a guess what kind of mood will greet reporters just a few minutes after such disappointment.
Shaking with excitement, Daniel shyly held his audio recorder up through the throng of other reporters. The players were professional and polite, and answered all questions. Daniel then followed the crowd into the corridor, where coach Mark Lamb patiently answered questions.
Daniel stepped forward, shook Lamb’s hand and thanked him for everything.
The coach and these Roadrunners made Hennessy’s dream come true. He was now a real hockey reporter.
The appearance of these Tucson Roadrunners also made me once again a local hockey columnist and radio/TV color commentator. Yes, this was a dream come true for me, too, after decades of championing hockey in Arizona.
Next season I’ll probably be a fan like everyone else, eating a hot dog, wearing my Roadrunners T-shirt, cheering on my hometown team.
Then I’ll start dreaming of an American Hockey League championship parade, outside the Tucson Arena, next spring.
Hockey dreams, you see, are for everyone in Tucson.