The Tucson Roadrunners’ season ended in a hurry.
Four straight losses to the Texas Stars in the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs eliminated Tucson following a historic regular season.
The Roadrunners were sent packing — literally. By Monday morning, the team’s locker room had been cleared out while luggage bags and bundles of hockey sticks waited to be shipped off to Glendale.
Even the ice in the Tucson Arena had been taken out.
The abbreviated ending in the playoffs doesn’t overshadow Tucson’s success this year, namely winning the division and conference regular-season titles.
Tucson beat San Jose 3-1 in the first round before falling to Texas 4-1 in the second. The Stars beat the Roadrunners in all three games played last week in Texas, including the clincher in overtime Friday.
“I learned a lot and it was a lot of fun,” Roadrunners head coach Mike Van Ryn said. “I think we accomplished a lot of things that we had set out to from Day 1.
“When we came into the year, it was, ‘OK, we have a young team, let’s see if we can get them into playoffs and give them some experience.”
The Roadrunners quickly overrode their preseason expectations, winning eight of their first 11 games and establishing themselves as a contender in the Pacific Division.
Tucson relied on youngsters Dylan Strome, Kyle Capobianco and Nick Merkley for much of the first half of the season. The three former 2015 NHL first-round draft picks all earned All-Star nods, as did Van Ryn.
The American Hockey League is a developmental league first and foremost, and Van Ryn liked the progress he saw from the younger players.
“They took off, they came out of the gates quick, and we were sitting there thinking, ‘OK, we’ve got a little more here than we thought.’ The room they created was fun for them but also fun to coach.”
In the later part of the season, the Roadrunners fought through a number of departures, whether injury or call-ups to the Coyotes, to stay atop the division standings.
Tucson benefited from trade-deadline deals that sent veteran forward Carter Camper and young defenseman Trevor Murphy to the Roadrunners.
Goaltender Adin Hill gave Tucson strong, consistent play right up until season’s end and positioned himself as an attractive prospect within the franchise.
“To a man everybody improved,” Van Ryn said. “I think that was a success. We’ve got a lot more to go down but I thought guys worked hard. They learned how to practice like pros and prepare themselves like that. It showed in games.”
Van Ryn was uncertain of his plans for next season, but said he would be open to coaching the Roadrunners for another year.
“It’s a great place to live, super friendly people and everyone in the organization has been unbelievable,” Van Ryn said. “It’s a great place. As far as I know I’m coming back, but we’ll see what happens.”