by Walt Ruff | AHL On The Beat
The Tucson Roadrunners became the first team to reach 10 wins following their victory last Saturday night over the Stockton Heat.
In the effort, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Arizona Coyotes also became the first AHL club to dress six different goaltenders in the young 2019-20 season.
The rotating cast in the cage has been up to the task, despite facing a heavy workload each night. Through the first 13 games of the year, the Roadrunners’ goaltenders have faced a healthy 31.5 shots per game on average, yet they have allowed a league-low 33 goals to contribute to the early season success.
What may be a cause for concern for some defensemen, fourth-year Roadrunner Dysin Mayo says the team has flourished despite the revolving door in the crease.
“It’s been different,” said Tucson’s most veteran blueliner. “To have the success that we’ve had, it says a lot about what we’ve been able to do defensively and what our goaltending has been able to accomplish.”
Mayo has played in front of Antti Raanta, Adin Hill, Ivan Prosvetov, Erik Kallgren and Eric Comrie over the course of the last six weeks. The Tucson roster has welcomed goaltenders from Glendale on conditioning loans while also finding ways to provide playing time to the future of the Coyotes.
The carousel began on October 2, exactly 48 hours prior to the team’s season opener against the Texas Stars, when the Roadrunners learned that they would be playing a veteran of six NHL seasons and one half of the parent club’s goaltending staple, Antti Raanta, to start their campaign in Cedar Park. Working his way back to full health after missing 10 months of game action due to injury, Raanta led Tucson to a 19-save shutout.
Following the 60-minute sample size, Raanta was deemed ready to return to action at the highest level and the Coyotes returned Adin Hill, Tucson’s franchise leader in nearly all goaltending statistics, to spearhead a trio also featuring a 20-year-old 2018 draft selection in Prosvetov and the 23-year-old Kallgren.
From October 6 to November 6, the three — all healthy — took their place in the Roadrunners’ net when called upon. However, some nights it meant watching the game from afar in the press box.
“I just look at it as healthy competition,” said Hill, who is in the midst of his fourth season in Southern Arizona. “When you’re competing against your peers, you’re pushing them at every practice. You’re both pushing toward a weekend of games and you’re trying to make each other better.”
The competition and desire is something that Eric Comrie has learned quickly during his short time with the Coyotes organization. The Edmonton, Alberta native was acquired off waivers from the Winnipeg Jets on October 1 and became assigned to the Roadrunners just last Saturday on a conditioning loan from the Coyotes.
In Comrie’s first start in Tucson, he stopped 23 shots against Stockton en route to completing a weekend sweep and is already making an impact on a team he’s still getting to know.
“You can tell they’re interested in developing players here,” said the 24-year-old Comrie. “It’s a winning mentality and everybody wants to win every time they step on the ice. It doesn’t matter if it’s a three-on-three scrimmage or a game, they want to win.”
The sixth goaltender to dress this season for Tucson is Merrick Madsen. The former Harvard University captain played in 11 games for Tucson last year and served as the team’s backup netminder in a Nov. 8 victory.
With the Roadrunners currently atop the Western Conference, it’s evident that no matter which goaltender is called upon, the group’s common denominator is winning games.
“It’s the American Hockey League. We’re an organization where we’ve had goalies that have needed to play,” said Roadrunners head coach Jay Varady. “That’s what we’re here for. Our job as a team is to be ready to compete and try and win a game every single night, no matter who is in net.”