Roadrunners’ Maccelli blossoming in the desert

Photo: Abbotsford Canucks

📝 by Patrick Williams

How did Monday go for Tucson Roadrunners forward Matias Maccelli?

A recall to the Arizona Coyotes following another offensively dominant month in Tucson.

Tuesday? Maccelli added another honor to his first American Hockey League season.

And Thursday? Maccelli can make his National Hockey League debut with Arizona when the Colorado Avalanche visit.

“It’s been very good,” Maccelli said of his shift to the North American pro game after spending the past two seasons in Finland. “The first couple of games were tough getting used to everything. It was just little adjustments to the game here, and I think it’s been pretty good [since].”

Maccelli, 21, was named the AHL Rookie of the Month for the second time this season after a powerhouse February in which he amassed 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) in 10 games as the Roadrunners chase an invitation to the Calder Cup Playoffs this spring. Maccelli had a four-assist night Feb. 7 on the road against the Abbotsford Canucks, burned the Colorado Eagles for three assists Feb. 11, and also served up a pair of one-goal, two-assist performances. Maccelli, who has 14 multi-point games this season, also posted 15 points (three goals, 12 assists) in 11 games in January following a brief recall to Arizona.

Add it up, and Maccelli is 12 points clear of any other AHL rookie in scoring this season, and sits third overall with 55 points (14 goals, 41 assists) in 42 games.

Maccelli won his first AHL Rookie of the Month honor back in November after collecting 14 points (six goals, eight assists) across eight games. Before Maccelli, a player had not won the honor twice in a season since Frank Vatrano did so with the 2015-16 Providence Bruins.

Like Vatrano, an undrafted forward who has gone on to play 372 National Hockey League contests, Maccelli also has blossomed despite a lack of hype around him. Shifty, creative, quick in tight places, and armed with a dangerous shot, Maccelli has thrived in Tucson.

The Coyotes took Maccelli in the fourth round of the 2019 NHL Draft, and the 5-foot-11, 165-pound Maccelli spent the past two seasons in Liiga competition at home in Finland, where he was the Rookie of the Year in 2019-20 with Ilves Tampere. He signed a three-year entry-level deal with Arizona in April 2020, and posted 39 points (15 goals, 24 assists) during a 51-game regular season in Tampere before making the jump to North America in the offseason.

Maccelli did not arrive in Tucson all that unaware of what to expect, though. He credits two seasons with Dubuque of the junior United States Hockey League with accelerating his improvement. By doing so, he blended acclimation with the North American game followed by competition against high-end pros in Finland to prepare him for the AHL.

“I think it was huge to play in USHL,” Maccelli explained. “I knew the game they play here, and then I went to Finland, and I learned how to play with men. So I think it was really good.”

The Roadrunners, meanwhile, will try to make up ground without Maccelli when they visit the Ontario Reign tonight to begin a five-game road trip. Tucson (17-24-2-1, .420) is currently eighth in a Pacific Division which will see seven teams qualify for the postseason.

Maccelli and Michael Carcone have found strong chemistry this season. Carcone’s hat trick took Tucson to a 6-5 win over Ontario on Saturday night, while Maccelli grabbed two assists. Carcone’s 21 goals (along with 14 assists) in 41 games tie him for eighth in the AHL this season.

On Sunday, Maccelli provided Tucson’s lone offensive strike playing on a line with Carcone and Travis Barron.

“[Carcone and I] talk a lot about how to play, off the ice and on the ice,” Maccelli said of playing with his chatty linemate. “He’s trying to help me out a lot. If I make mistakes, he’s really good about it, too. He’s not just yelling at me. We’re having a conversation, and he’s helped me out a lot.

“It’s been really nice to have him there. He’s been playing in the AHL for a while now. He knows how you should play in this league, and he’s been a huge help.”