The Tucson Roadrunners are a hair under .500 as they head into this weekend’s two-game set against the Iowa Wild.
Even still, no team has more success so far against the best teams in the American Hockey League’s Western Conference through the season’s first five weeks.
On opening night, the Roadrunners took down host Stockton in overtime, 1-0. Through 11 games, the Heat (9-0-2-0) are one of only two AHL teams to not lose in regulation.
And last weekend, the Roadrunners dropped eight on Ontario (10-1-0-1) — which had been previously unbeaten in regulation — in a resounding win in Tucson Arena.
With victories over the top two teams in the Western Conference, the Roadrunners (4-5-1-0) would be due for a break this weekend, right?
Not quite. The Wild (7-3-1-0) closed out last weekend tied for the conference’s third-best record.
For Tucson head coach Jay Varady, it’s not enough to beat the AHL’s best just occasionally.
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“Are we better than a .500 team or not? The standings tell us that we aren’t right now,” Varady said. “So we need to do something more. We have to find the next step.
“I think everybody in our locker room wants more. We want more from our team record.”
Perhaps Varady has a point about what the standings say. It isn’t just the cumulative result; week to week, the Roadrunners are every bit a .500 team so far.
That opening weekend in Stockton, a day after Tucson’s overtime win, the Roadrunners fell 3-2. The next weekend at home against Texas, a 4-0 Tucson win Friday was followed by a 6-2 Saturday defeat. Fast-forward another week: A 5-1 loss to San Diego was followed by a 6-4 Tucson win a day later.
Last weekend, after Tucson walloped Ontario 8-4, the Reign pushed back to take a 6-3 outcome the next day.
This weekend will be a little different. For the first time in six weeks of play, the Roadrunners get a day off in between games. The Wild and Roadrunners skate Friday at 6 p.m., before returning to Des Moines’ Wells Fargo Arena Sunday at noon.
That’s unique — for Tucson, at least. The Roadrunners and much of the AHL’s westernmost teams most often play what’s often referred to as a “college schedule” of back-to-back weekend games.
Will a day off in between games be the difference for Tucson?
“We’re going to find out,” Varady said. “Let’s hope it is, yeah.”