A day after playing their most complete game of the still-young 2021-22 season, the Tucson Roadrunners crashed back down to earth Saturday, falling 6-3 to the Ontario Reign in the back half of a two-game set at Tucson Arena.
Sunday’s result – arguably even more of a blowout that then the three-goal differential would indicate – was certainly a far cry from the dominant 8-4 win Saturday that appeared to be a possible turning point for the middling Roadrunners.
“It was the inverse last night,” Tucson head coach Jay Varady said. “(Tonight) we took penalties early, we got down three-on-five, they were able to score on their power play. We can’t find ourselves in that situation. Too many penalties early on when we were trying to get the game rolling.”
A day after Tucson rookie Matias Maccelli’s hat trick paced the Roadrunners (4-5-1-0) to that four-goal victory over the then-first place Reign (9-1-0-1), Ontario’s Samuel Fagemo had his own three-goal night on Tucson’s home ice. In six Roadrunners’ home games at Tucson Arena so far this season, four different players – that includes three for Tucson and Fagemo as the only opponent – have tallied hat tricks.
JJ Moser, whose third goal of the season late in the second period cut the Ontario lead to 5-2, said the difference between Friday's success and Saturday’s disappointment is something the Roadrunners are familiar with this season so far.
“I think it’s a story that we’ve already had before,” Moser said. “We have some trouble finding the same energy the second night when we play back-to-back. We didn’t have the same fire.”
After being outscored 6-1 over the final 35 minutes and change Friday night, Ontario took an early 2-0 lead Saturday thanks to goals by Sean Durzi five minutes into the game, and Fagemo roughly four minutes later.
McCartney countered for the Roadrunners two minutes after that with his team-best fifth goal of the year, assisted by Fasching and Maccelli to keep the game within reach at 2-1 after one.
But Ontario piled it on over the first half of the season period. Fagemo put his second of the game past Tucson goaltender Josef Kořenář a minute into the middle frame, with Durzi’s second coming four minutes later. Less than 12 minutes into the second period, Fagemo had his hat trick, and Ontario led 5-1 at that point.
Moser’s goal came late in the second period, assisted by Terry Broadhurst and Vladislav Kolyachonok, before Ontario’s Brett Sutter added an empty net goal late in the third. Tucson’s Jan Jenik capped the scoring with his fourth goal of the season inside two minutes to play while the Roadrunners were on a two-man advantage. Maccelli and Moser earned the assists on Jenik’s late goal.
Ontario’s Martin Frk came into Saturday’s matchup as the AHL’s leader in goals (nine) and tied for the league-high in points (18). He added to the latter total with two assists and his 20 points in 12 games remains tied for tops in the AHL.
Moser’s three goals lead all AHL rookie defenseman in that category, while Maccelli’s two-assist night, coming the day after he tied a Tucson single-game record with a five-point outing, pushed his team-high point total to 11 in 11 games.
While Ontario’s Friday night starting goaltender Matthew Villalta allowed five goals on Tucson’s first 11 shots in that game, it was Kořenář who suffered a similar fate in the Roadrunners’ own net Saturday. Kořenář stopped just nine of Ontario’s first 14 shots against as the Reign built their big lead. In four starts for Tucson this season, Kořenář is 1-3 with a 4.35 goals-against average and .852 save percentage.
Garret Sparks, Ontario’s starting netminder Saturday night, stopped 27 of 30 Tucson shots on goal in the victory, but also found himself with his helmet ripped off and in the middle of a melee with a second to play deep in the Reign zone. Fans inside Tucson Arena hoping to see a series full of traditional hockey fisticuffs got what they wanted over the weekend. Forty-five combined penalties were called, spanning nearly 170 minutes across both teams over the two games.
“I think there's just a little bit of a rivalry that started in terms of the groups,” Varady said. “In terms of our game, we just want to make sure we stand together and we protect each other.”
Up next for the Roadrunners: A Friday/Sunday split against the Iowa Wild in Des Moines. The 1,100-mile air trek is far and away Tucson’s farthest road trip of the 2021-22 season. Tucson and Iowa face off at 6 p.m. Friday and noon Sunday, before the Roadrunners return to Tucson to host their newest AHL Pacific Division foe, the Abbottsford Heat during Thanksgiving week in a two-game Friday/Saturday set. The puck drops both Nov. 26 and Nov. 27 at 7 p.m. in Tucson Arena.