Weekend watch list: Dec. 29-31

Patrick Williams, TheAHL.com Features Writer

Much like the Arizona Coyotes have been one of the NHL’s top surprise stories this season, their AHL counterparts in Tucson have made noise of their own.

The Roadrunners are 9-2-1-0 in their past 12 outings, going into a busy home weekend at Tucson Arena. A visit from Coachella Valley tonight begins the action before San Diego arrives Saturday to close out the Roadrunners’ 2023 calendar.

Tucson’s hot December run has moved them into second place in the Pacific Division as weekend play opens. And after sweeping stops in San Jose, Bakersfield and San Diego last weekend, the Roadrunners’ 11 road wins (11-3-1-0) are tied for the most in the AHL.

Tucson has been on a scoring tear, averaging 4.56 goals per game in December. Forward Dylan Guenther, taken by Arizona as the ninth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, paces the Roadrunners with 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists), while rookie forward Josh Doan, the son of Coyotes legend Shane Doan, has delivered early on his promise, leading Tucson with 12 goals.

Matt Villalta signed with Arizona as a free agent and has been a workhorse for the Roadrunners, appearing in 22 of their first 27 games. He leads the league in minutes played (1,305) and is tied for first with 14 wins while posting a 2.62 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage.

If it’s December 31 in Grand Rapids, then Van Andel Arena will be the place to be.

The Grand Rapids Griffins will stage their annual New Year’s Eve game Sunday evening against the Cleveland Monsters. It will be the Griffins’ 26th annual New Year’s Eve home date, a tradition that dates back to their time in the International Hockey League.

The night is typically one of the biggest draws on the Griffins’ schedule – five of the last seven New Year’s contests have been sold out – and features what is billed as “West Michigan’s Largest Indoor Fireworks Show” as well as a post-game skate for fans.

Defenseman Simon Edvinsson returned to the Griffins on Thursday after a two-game stay with the Detroit Red Wings. The sixth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft recorded an assist in the Red Wings’ game at Minnesota on Wednesday night.

The Griffins grabbed a 4-2 win at Rockford on Wednesday in their first action coming out of the Christmas break. A stop in Chicago to face the Wolves tonight will carry them into Sunday’s home date.

The Laval Rocket will welcome their former head coach back to Place Bell for the first time when they host the Syracuse Crunch in the AHLTV Free Game of the Week tonight (7 ET/6 CT).

Joël Bouchard, who was named Syracuse’s head coach in June, spent three seasons guiding the Rocket between 2018 and 2021, going 83-67-24 and leading the team to a Canadian Division title in 2020-21.

After one campaign with San Diego and a season out of coaching, the Montreal native has found early success in his return to the AHL: Syracuse is second in the North Division with a 16-9-2-2 record. They returned to action this past Wednesday with a 3-1 win at Rochester.

The Rocket are 1-1-0-1 against the Crunch this season, all in Syracuse, and are 4-2-0-1 in their last seven games as they try to rebound from a 5-12-3-1 start. The Rocket dropped a 4-1 decision at Belleville on Thursday night but will now play six of their next eight games at home.

An AHLTV account is required to watch the AHLTV Free Game of the Week, but no subscription is needed. Visit AHLTV.com for details.