#AHLOTB: Growth, development twofold in Tucson

Photo: Chris Hook

by Alexander Kinkopf | AHL On The Beat

“It’s worked the way the organization has figured it would work.”

The reference here is growth, both in the Coyotes’ gleaming pool of youthful talent, and the prosperity of hockey across the state of Arizona.

It’s about proximity, and it’s about product. And both have worked wonders.

As the Tucson Roadrunners’ inaugural American Hockey League season approaches its final slate of games, the results of the team’s transition from Springfield, Massachusetts, reach far beyond the club’s output in the win column.

“It’s been a positive situation for the organization to know that their prospects and their call-ups are a mere two hours down the road,” said Roadrunners general manager Doug Soetaert.

What has been developed during the past six months since the club debuted in southern Arizona is a bond: a bond that has relegated trust and companionship between front offices, fans, and players.

That connection has developed a tight-knit network, one that has been strengthened by the 12 players within the organization who have donned both Coyotes and Roadrunners uniforms this season.

“There have been a lot of positives in regards to the Tucson franchise and the number of players that have gone up and contributed [to the Coyotes] this season,” Soetaert said. “It shows that there is a real talent pool of players that are on the verge of making that next step. Our fans in Tucson have been able to see the [Brendan] Perlinis, the [Christian] Fischers, the [Laurent] Dauphins, the [Anthony] DeAngelos play in Tucson all season long.

“And when they’re needed, they go up top.”

There’s certainly been no shortage of shared assets. Alas, help is just a short drive away.

“The proximity to Phoenix has made it very easy for players to commute back and forth, and it has made it very easy for the management up in Phoenix to come down on a semi-regular basis and watch the young prospects first-hand.”

Among the players who have skated with both clubs this season are Dauphin, DeAngelo, Fischer and Perlini, as well as Kevin ConnautonAnthony Duclair, Tyler Gaudet, Adin Hill, Marek Langhamer, Jamie McBain, Zbynek Michalek, and Justin Peters.

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 02: Brendan Perlini #29 of the Arizona Coyotes is congratulated by teammates after scoring a second period goal against the Chicago Blackhawks at Gila River Arena on February 2, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

Perlini, who was named the CCM/AHL Rookie of the Month in November, has put up 19 points in 48 NHL games since initially getting the call from the Coyotes on December 4. He registered 19 points in 17 games with the Roadrunners.

The intra-use of the organization’s players has spanned everywhere from typical call-ups and assignments to emergency needs and rehabilitation stints.

“Such an important part of building our fan base is to generate the interest amongst our faithful in seeing our players develop and excel at the highest level,” said Roadrunners president Bob Hoffman. “We have been very fortunate this season seeing numerous call-ups make their way to the Coyotes and not only just getting the nod, but having success.”

The Roadrunners have shipped off five players for their first career NHL ventures, and have seen four of those make their debuts. The farm club has nurtured struggling stars, and also provided momentary homes for seasoned veterans.

On any given day, fans may watch a player compete on a national stage with the Coyotes who was, a few nights prior, skating the lengths of Tucson Arena. Or, as we’ve come to see on a number of occasions this season, vice versa.

That’s the beauty of it all.

“It just helps grow the game of hockey in the state of Arizona, and I think that was part of the bigger plan also, rather than just the development of the young players,” Soetaert said. “Every game we play, there are a number of fans down from Phoenix in our building, and there’s a number of our fans and our season ticket holders up in Phoenix attending games up there.”

At the end of the day, the focal point of the Roadrunners’ arrival is development. From an on-ice standpoint, the deed has been done, but then again, it’s only just begun.

“Having the farm team in Tucson is to develop the game of hockey in the state of Arizona,” Soetaert added with an air of purpose.

As is the case in most newfound relationships, the current state is great.