The Tucson Roadrunners have already secured a spot in the Calder Cup playoffs. On Friday, they’ll turn their attention to earning a top seed.
Tucson enters the weekend series against Grand Rapids boasting a sizable lead atop the American Hockey League’s Pacific Division. The Roadrunners, who own a .651 points percentage, are three games above second-place Ontario in the win column.
A sweep over the Griffins would virtually guarantee Tucson the top seed in its division.
“Obviously it’s nice to have clinched, but at the same time you want to be playing your best hockey at this time,” Tucson defenseman Joel Hanley said. “Whoever we face in the first round we want to be at our best and playing well.”
Grand Rapids will give Tucson a strong late-season test, as the Griffins themselves are on track to make the playoffs. Tucson this season has faced Grand Rapids twice before, with the Roadrunners winning the first meeting 3-1 in October before dropping a Feb. 28 matchup 3-2.
“They’re a veteran team and they know how to win,” Roadrunners defenseman Andrew Campbell said. “They’re big and strong. If you let them set up in the O-zone, they can make plays and move around and really take up time. We’ve got to be sharp.”
The Roadrunners, winners of seven of their last nine games, have shown no signs of regression in recent weeks despite a series of roster drop-offs.
Rookies Dylan Strome and Nick Merkley carried Tucson for the first half of the season, but Strome has since carved out a role with the Arizona Coyotes while Merkley is out the rest of the season with an upper-body injury.
Laurent Dauphin is also done for the season as the result of a lower-body injury.
The Coyotes recalled trade-deadline pickup Trevor Murphy two weeks ago, and key defenseman Dakota Mermis joined him earlier this week.
The roster shakeups have thus far proven to be no detriment to Tucson’s on-ice success.
“It shows how deep we are that guys can step into power play roles or penalty kill roles that aren’t normally there,” Roadrunners forward Kyle Capobianco said. “They’ve shown they can succeed at it too.”
Tucson added to its roster Thursday by signing defenseman T.J. Melancon to a professional tryout. The 21-year-old produced 15 goals and 28 assists for the Norfolk Admirals of the ECHL and was named to the league’s All-Rookie team earlier this week.