The Tucson Roadrunners have been one of the American Hockey League’s best teams this season when playing what, statistically speaking, have been some of the league’s tougher teams.
Against the Stockton Heat and Iowa Wild, Tucson is 6-0. Stockton trails only Tucson in the AHL’s Pacific Division Race, and owns the league’s fifth-best record to date. The Wild, for its efforts, are ninth overall, and second in the central division.
But it’s been the matchups with the league’s supposed also-rans that have provided the Roadrunners (15-5-0-0) their biggest problems so far.
Due to the way overtime and shootout losses count, in essence, as the equivalent of half a victory each in the standings, only nine AHL teams are under .500 as the season nears one-third complete.
Yet, four of the Roadrunner’s five losses have come to opponents in that category, including Saturday’s 6-2 thumping by the San Diego Gulls, and an earlier 7-2 loss to the San Jose Barracuda, respectively. Tucson also fell, 2-1 and 3-0, in back-to-back late October home games to the Chicago Wolves.
San Jose has the league’s second-worst record to date. Chicago is tied for fourth-worst, and the Gulls bettered their record to 24th of 31 — that’s eighth from the bottom — only after a dominant performance in San Diego that saw the Roadrunners go without a single shot on goal in the third period. That’s the first time in the club’s Tucson history that’s happened in any regulation period.
As the Roadrunners return to Tucson Arena this week to face the Colorado Eagles in a pair of mid-week outings — the Eagles (10-8-1-0), for their part, are the picture of middling, entering Tuesday’s 7:05 p.m. matchup with a record that’s 16th of 31 AHL teams.
Tucson head coach said he Jay Varady isn’t buying into the idea that certain teams are supposedly good, and others maybe not, based on where each currently sits in the AHL pecking order. The season is long, Varady says, and a team’s makeup can change at any moment.
“I think the standings board in the American Hockey League is an extremely tricky thing,” Varady said. “A team one day could change by two players. The next day, your roster could change by two. That’s a swing of four players.
“There’s all kinds of different things that will affect a team over the course of a season.”
Varady added that most of Tucson’s losses this season may have more to do with a balanced Pacific Division than anything else.
“In terms of this team is below .500 or above .500, I don’t get into that too much. If you look at the teams that are in our division, their record might not be very good, but they’re good hockey teams,” he said. “They do a lot of good things,” he said. “Instead of the looking at the standings board all the time … If we play the right way and do the right things, the standings board will take care of itself.”
Saturday’s loss to San Diego did snap Tucson’s bid for a third different five-game win streak this season and dropped the Roadrunners from atop the Western Conference (and second league-wide) to second in the West and third overall.
At this point of the season, though, that doesn’t mean as much as it might seem, defenseman Dysin Mayo said. What matters, Mayo added, is how Tucson rebounds against Colorado.
The Eagles are 5-2-1-0 in their last eight games, and also defeated the Milwaukee Admirals, of the AHL’s best overall record, twice early on this season — once in overtime, another in a shootout.
“Obviously the standings are there for everyone to see, so you come across it … and sometimes it’s in the back of your head,” Mayo said. “But you try not to pay much attention to it.
“At the end of the day on Saturday, we just weren’t ready to play in the first period.”