Give 110%. Coaches preach it. Players live by it.
Except on ice.
In hockey, 105% is the goal, and that’s not really tied to the clichéd portrayal of an athlete’s would-be effort.
Rather, in professional hockey — and even college or at the major junior level, too — it’s common for teams to shoot for an aggregate of “105%,” or better, in terms of their special teams success.
The Tucson Roadrunners (10-3-0-0), on the road Friday at 7 p.m. to face the Stockton Heat (8-2-1-2) for the fourth time in five games, are the first AHL team to reach the 10-win mark this season. And while they’ve done so by sporting one of the league’s top power-play units, they’re also, so far, well below-average when killing penalties.
So where, again, does the 105 come in? Through 13 games, the Roadrunners have been shorthanded — either 5-on-4, 5-on-3 or 4-on-3 disadvantages — 56 times. Yet they’ve only staved off an opposition goal 75% of the time, the third-worst mark in the AHL. (On the plus side, forward Jeremy Gregoire has three shorthanded goals).
On the power play, however, Tucson is registering at about 21% — that’s seventh-best among the AHL’s 31 teams — on a league-high 70 power play opportunities. Tucson is averaging more power plays per game — five-plus — than any team in the league, and all five of forward Brayden Burke’s goals this season have come on the man advantage.
Add ’em up, though, and Tucson is at a combined 96.4%. That’s well below the league average, which hovers right around an aggregate 100%. It’s even further below what’s considered the benchmark for contenders: that vaunted 105%.
“Usually teams that are above 105 always make the playoffs, in NHL and the AHL,” Tucson forward Beau Bennett said. “That’s something we talk about. If you can get it to that threshold. Like 85 (on penalty kill) and 20 (on power play), you’re usually in a good spot.”
Tucson has proven an anomaly this season, with the second best record in the AHL heading into this weekend’s Northern California road trip, where they’ll also face the San Jose Barracuda (4-6-0-1) Sunday at 6 p.m. In terms of its own aggregate special teams result, Tucson is currently 22nd of 31 AHL teams, and there are outliers every year.
But Stockton, who the Roadrunners see Friday and have defeated in three straight matchups over the past two weeks is the league’s best in this pseudo-unofficial stat. The Heat are a league-high 31% on the power play, thanks in some degree to three straight second-period power play goals Saturday — all coming on the same Roadrunners’ five-minute major penalty. Stockton is also a respectable 85% when shorthanded. Add it up, again, and that’s tops in the AHL at 115.7% — well above the 105 threshold.
As noted with Tucson so far this season, the Grand Rapids Griffins were an outlier last year, reaching the playoffs despite a league worst total (92.7%).
But overall, it has proven telling AHL metric in recent history. Last season, 11 of the top 14 aggregate totals made the AHL’s Calder Cup Playoffs. In 2017-18: seven of nine. And the year before that, it was the entire top 10, and 13 of the top 15.
Most notably, however: The eventual Calder Cup champions each of those seasons finished at or just shy of the top spot in the league. The Charlotte Checkers and Toronto Marlies — cup winners in 2018-19 and 2017-18, respectively — were best in the league in aggregate special teams play. The year prior, the Griffins won the Calder Cup, while finishing second in the combined statistic.
Tucson coach Jay Varady said there is no magic pill toward getting better on the penalty kill, other than hard work in practice, although Tucson has been shorthanded significantly more this season than last.
“You’ve got to go get the job done. It’s just part of the deal,” Varady said. “It’s the obstacle in the game — in the moment. Just go and play it.”