With training camp already in full swing and their head coach called up the NHL this month, the Tucson Roadrunners stayed close to home in filling the top spot behind their bench.
The Roadrunners announced Friday the promotion of Steve Potvin, an assistant with Tucson for three seasons and part of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes instructional tree for the past four, as the fourth head coach in franchise history.
“We are very pleased to select Steve as the new head coach of the Roadrunners,” Bill Armstrong, general manager of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, said in a news release. “Steve is a very good coach who has done an excellent job working with our prospects in Tucson the past three years. We are confident that he is the right coach to continue the development of our players and help build a winning culture in Tucson.”
It’s no surprise the Coyotes, who own and operate their top minor-league affiliate, stayed in-house to replace Jay Varady after he was promoted to assistant coach with the NHL club.
Potvin, 46, has a track record in Tucson as an assistant, a familiarity with the Coyotes’ organization, and significant experience as both a player and coach in the American Hockey League.
He also has the support of the Roadrunners’ veterans, including forwards Michael Bunting and Lane Pederson.
When asked this week, prior to the team’s announcement, about the next head coach possibly coming from inside the organization, Bunting and Pederson told the Star they would be pleased with either Potvin or fellow assistant coach John Slaney getting the nod.
“They’re great teachers of the game,” Bunting said. “You really can’t go wrong with either of those choices and I know a lot of the boys respect both of them tremendously.”
Slaney will stay on as an assistant coach, the organization confirmed Friday. This will be Slaney’s 10th season as an assistant at either the AHL or NHL level. That includes the last three with the Roadrunners, and the two prior to that with the Coyotes.
“They come to the rink every day with a great work ethic and a great attitude. That just sets us up for success,” Pederson said of both. “You come to the rink and you’re banged up, or you’re bruised, and you see them with a smile on their face and energetic, and they’re ready to pull the rope.”
Bunting said the start of training camp has been business as usual under Potvin and Slaney. The team will open its shortened 2021 season Feb. 5 against San Jose at Tucson Arena.
“We’re all so familiar with those two,” Bunting said. “‘Potsie’ has been running the forwards. That’s what he was doing last year. And Slaney’s been handling all the (defense). … It’s been rolling really smoothly.”
Potvin and Slaney assisted former Tucson head coaches Mike Van Ryn for one year and Varady the past two seasons. During that time, the Roadrunners posted the best record in the AHL’s Pacific Division — 112-65-11-6 — while capturing a pair of division titles.
“We’ve got a great group here. We’ve got a real good tradition. We’ve got a culture already in place,” Potvin said during a Zoom call Friday. “For us, it’s just the willingness to continue it. We’re not going to try to reinvent the wheel. We’re going to keep this thing moving forward in the same direction.”
As a player, Potvin followed up more than 150 games at the AHL level with a decade as a professional playing across Europe. His last pro season as a player came in Arizona. Potvin scored 14 goals and carded 19 assists in 57 games in 2009-10 with the now defunct Double-A Arizona Sundogs, based in Prescott Valley.