The Tucson Roadrunners did something Saturday night that they not only have never done before, but certainly didn’t want to ever see happen: lose a seventh straight game.
Following a scoreless first period, the Roadrunners and Ontario Reign combined for six goals in a span of 11 minutes during a high-flying middle frame. But it was four from the visitors in that second period that proved too much for still-stumbling Tucson, as the last-place Reign rolled 5-2 at Tucson Arena.
Ontario opened the scoring with three goals in just three minutes and 32 seconds, resulting in starting goaltender Adin Hill getting the mid-game hook in favor of backup Hunter Miska.
After Ontario goals from Austin Strand, Mike Amadio and Mikey Eyssimont, Tucson’s Michael Bunting answered back quickly with his 12th of the season to cut the lead to 3-1. With the assist from Robbie Russo and Jordan Gross, the goal marked Bunting’s 100th-career point, extending his own club mark since the Roadrunners moved to Tucson prior to the 2016-17 season.
Sheldon Rempal stole it back for the Reign, however, bringing the score to 4-1, before Brayden Burke’s own thievery — he took the puck away from the Ontario defensive unit in the Reign’s own zone before beating goaltender Peter Budaj with a shifty move near the crease — cut it to 4-2.
“Our second period was awful tonight. We can’t have that happen,” Tucson coach Jay Varady said. “You can look at the shots and say, ‘Oh, we got some shots here,’ but we’ve got to get inside. We’ve got to create some scoring chances.
“We’ve got to be tougher in the middle of the rink.”
Two goals was, again, as close as Tucson would get as the Reign added its final tally in the third period off the stick of Jamie Devane, while Budai got the win in net stopping 34 of 36 shots a night after teammate Cal Petersen stopped 46 of 47 Roadrunner attempts in a 3-1 Ontario win.
The Roadrunners’ seventh consecutive defeat — including six in regulation and one in overtime — is the longest such streak since the team relocated to Tucson from Springfield, Massachusetts. Back in their inaugural Southern Arizona campaign, the Roadrunners dropped six straight (five in regulation, one in overtime) in March 2017.
The Roadrunners continue to freefall in the American Hockey League’s Pacific Division standings, entering the night five points behind the Colorado Eagles for fourth place in the division and only three points ahead of the idle Stockton Heat. Each AHL division sends its top four finishes to the Calder Cup playoffs, but Tucson’s record of 2-11-2-1 over its last 16 games has put a repeat postseason trip into clear jeopardy.
“I don’t want a long summer. I’m not ready for summer. I’m still ready to keep this going and making a (playoff) push,” Bunting said. “We have a good team in there; we have a great group of guys that, you know, we all like each other. We’ve just got to bounce back.”
By the time the Roadrunners take the ice at 7 p.m. Friday in Stockton, it will be one day shy of a full month since their last win.
“We just got to press that refresh button,” Bunting said. “Get a day off (Sunday) — just kind of get a day away from the rink and let our minds reset and come into Monday and get ready to work.”