The name of the game for the Tucson Roadrunners’ Friday night: Attack early, then batten down the hatches.
Tucson captain Michael Chaput’s two first-period goals — all starting with a power-play marker barely two minutes into the opening frame — set the tone as the Roadrunners (5-1-0-0) defeated the visiting Iowa Wild, 3-1, at Tucson Arena. The result was Tucson’s fourth in a row and handed the Wild (5-1-0-1) its only regulation loss so far this season.
Chaput’s stick work — leading to his fourth and fifth goals of the season – got things moving early on for the Roadrunners. That was thanks to a clean find down low from Nick Merkley on that early man advantage followed by a second-effort give-and-go from the corner with Lane Pederson.
At that point, it was goaltender Adin Hill and the Tucson defense that carried the load the rest of the way.
“Hiller’s phenomenal. It’s so nice having him back there, the way he plays. He’s so calm, cool and collected,” Tucson defenseman Vince Pedrie said of the Roadrunners’ No. 1 netminder. “He plays the puck well, makes a lot of big stops. … It’s easy for defensemen to play in front of him.”
Hill stopped 25 of the 26 shots he faced, while Pederson upped his team-lead in goals to seven through six games early in the third period. To boot, Friday was the fourth time this season the Roadrunners have started a game with at least a 2-0 lead.
Tucson coach Jay Varady categorized Hill as “outstanding” Friday, but added that he thought the Roadrunners could have been played more cohesively.
“I don’t think we played a great team game, but I thought he was there in the moments we needed him and made some really big saves for us,” Tucson coach Jay Varady said. “I thought Iowa had really good looks at the net throughout the course of the game.
"They’re a team that’s able to get a lot of pucks through from the point. They’re bouncing around the net. Our guys did a good job battling around the crease, but we’ve got to be a little sharper.”
Added Hill: “I thought our team played a strong game. I think we’ve got to be a little bit better tomorrow, but you can’t complain when you’re on a four-game win streak. You’ve just got to keep things rolling.”
While Chaput’s power play goal came with him skating in that moment on a special teams line alongside Merkley and Brayden Burke, the Roadrunners’ top line of Chaput, Pederson and Michael Bunting continues to pace all-things-offense for Tucson.
The trio has combined for 12 of Tucson’s 23 goals on the season. Pederson's seven goals have him currently tied for second among all American Hockey League skaters, while Chaput is tied for fourth. Bunting, to boot, is tied with Andy Miele for the Tucson lead with five assists.
“I just kind of think the three of us are complementing each other. We’re just working hard, honestly,” Pederson said. “(We’re) forcing turnovers and attacking quick in transition … Just trying to keep the ball rolling here.”
The Roadrunners and Wild return to the Tucson Arena ice Saturday at 7:05 p.m. for Tucson’s fourth game in a row at home, as part of a six-game homestand. Following Saturday, Tucson closes out its October schedule with home tilts Tuesday and Wednesday against the Chicago Wolves — both at 7:05 p.m.