Tucson head coach Jay Varady had one word in mind to describe the Roadrunners’ come-from-behind, 4-3 shootout win over the Ontario Reign on Friday night.
“Resilient,” Varady said, after his Roadrunners (13-5-2-1) erased a 3-0 second-period deficit at Tucson Arena. “Obviously not the way we wanted to start the game; not the way we wanted to play. (Ontario) controlled the entire tempo of the first, I thought, but I thought we came in, regrouped, our leadership re-took control of the locker room and we played 40 minutes of hockey.”
It was closer to 38 minutes of good hockey for the Roadrunners, not that anyone is counting. The Roadrunners tied the game in the latter half of the third frame before ultimately winning it in the post-overtime shootout.
After giving up Ontario’s first goal just 1:35 into the game, and trailing 2-0 heading into the first intermission, it was looking bleak for the Roadrunners — playing the first of four home games over the next six days — when the Reign jumped ahead 3-0 less than two minutes into the second period.
But Ontario wouldn’t score again the rest of the night, and the comeback was on.
Tucson chipped away with second-period goals from forwards Lane Pederson and Laurent Dauphin. Then, just shy of eight minutes remaining in regulation, defenseman Kyle Capobianco rushed full-speed toward the net to the left of Reign goaltender Peter Budaj. Capobianco reined in a quirky bounce off the boards behind Budaj’s goal cage and flipped the puck up high, glove side, for the game-tying goal.
Hunter Miska stopped both Ontario shootout attempts after a scoreless overtime. Dauphin and Jordan Gross each beat Budaj in the one-on-one scenario, securing the victory in the third consecutive game between these teams to go past regulation.
Miska stopped 34 of 37 shots faced in regulation and overtime, in addition to both shootout attempts.
Capobianco, with his grandparents in the building all the way from a couple hours north of Toronto, assisted on Pederson and Dauphin’s second-period goals before netting his own. Adam Helewka, who has 10 points in the Roadrunners’ last five games, assisted on all three goals, while Trevor Murphy assisted Capobianco’s goal, too.
Austin Wagner, Brad Morrison and Matt Roy each scored a goal for Ontario.
Murphy’s assist is particularly notable because he and Kevin Ekman-Larsson — both defensemen by trade — were plugged into the lineup Friday as forwards. A little bit because of injuries, but most likely due to recent roster shuffling by the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, Tucson’s coaching staff was forced to get especially creative and chose to move Murphy and Ekman-Larsson up front to fill out three sets of forward lines.
“It’s kind of funny. It looks a little weird thinking that you have three (defensemen) out there sometimes, but I think they handled it great and really succeeded out there,” Capobianco said, adding that in addition to Murphy and Ekman-Larsson doing yeoman’s work while playing out of position, Helewka’s play was essential to the Roadrunners’ getting two points in the standings. “I think it shows the character of our room. A couple guys got called up and some guys stepped into big roles tonight.”
Added Helewka, who has helped replace some of the lost scoring with Tucson’s leading point producers Conor Garland and Michael Bunting both earning NHL call-ups this week: “That’s the (AHL) for you. There’s changes almost every week. Guys going up, coming down. So as a team we’ve just kind of got to be ready for anything. Guys have got to be ready for any sort of role they have to play and I think that’s what we did and everybody kind of came together here tonight.”
The Roadrunners and Reign face off again Saturday at Tucson Arena at 7:05 p.m. It’s the fourth time in five games Tucson will face Ontario.
In what’s now an annual tradition, Saturday’s outing will include a “Teddy Bear Toss,” where fans are encouraged to bring a teddy bear with them to toss on the ice after the first Roadrunners goal. The stuffed animals will be collected and distributed to Southern Arizona children in need.