When pressed about his tenure in Tucson and his own NHL prospects, newly minted Roadrunners captain Dakota Mermis quoted first-year coach Jay Varady.
“Jay talks about being where your feet are,” Mermis said after a mid-October practice skate. “That’s really important. Living in the moment. Living where you are.”
At this exact moment, Mermis’ Roadrunners teammates are prepping for Friday night’s game against the San Jose Barracuda. San Jose and Tucson will face off again Saturday at the same time.
Mermis is not in Tucson — not any longer. His feet are somewhere in Pennsylvania, where the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes are between games in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia before moving on to Washington and Detroit next week.
It was a serendipitous 18-plus hours for Mermis earlier this week.
At close to 2 p.m. Monday, the 6-foot, 195-pound defenseman was named Tucson’s captain for the 2018-19 season. Announced as alternate captains: forward Mario Kempe and the combo of defenseman Robbie Russo and forward Laurent Dauphin, who will split time with the “A” on their sweaters.
By 9 a.m. the next morning, Mermis was called up to the NHL again — right as Arizona, one of the league’s hottest teams, was set to embark on a four-game road swing.
This is Mermis’ second stint with the Coyotes; he played in nine games a season ago, tallying nearly 11 minutes on ice.
Prior to his call-up, Mermis and his teammates talked about the climbing their own proverbial corporate ladder.
“Of course, December here is not like Springfield,” he said, comparing the desert southwest to Springfield, Massachusetts, where the Roadrunners existed before a move to Southern Arizona.
Even with the uncertainty a minor-league sports career brings, Mermis and his wife, Sarah, haven’t been afraid to put down roots in a city and state they’ve been pleased to call home for a few years. They’re both from greater St. Louis, but now live off Tucson’s North Silverbell Road on the west side.
“And it’s not like Ontario (Canada) or Green Bay, or anywhere I’ve been before that,” he said. “For me, being able to wake up and get the dog outside, start your day and it’s bright, warm. You come to the rink in a better mood.”
Minor-league captains’ patches are generally awarded to a player well-respected in the locker room, someone the coaching staff can count on as an extension of itself.
Mermis certainly fits.
“He’s such a good leader. The stuff he does on the ice – composed, makes the right plays all the time,” Tucson goaltender Adin Hill said.
Mermis’ other fit as a captain: his longevity with the Tucson franchise. Mermis, Dauphin and forward Michael Bunting have been with the club for two-plus seasons in Tucson, as well as the club’s final season as the Springfield Falcons.
Hill, meanwhile, spent some time with the club during that final Springfield campaign. As it sits, Bunting and Mermis are 1-2 in all-time games played in a Tucson uniform, too.
In a manner of speaking, they’re the grizzled, would-be “older” guys. Except that Mermis is only 24. Before his call-up, being he was the oldest player on the Tucson roster.
Mermis will likely return to Tucson at some point.
“He’s still young. He’s only been in the league three, four years now,” said rookie defenseman Cam Dineen, who played alongside Mermis a bit early on this season, admittedly soaking in anything he could from the veteran.
“He’s had his chances up there and he’s done well. (The Coyotes) obviously like him. That’s why they re-signed him this year.”
Before the surprise call-up, Mermis said something prescient.
“You have no choice but do whatever you can do right here, today,” he said. “Because that’s what might get you there tomorrow.”