Tucson Roadrunners clinch AHL Calder Cup playoff spot

James Kelley Special to the Arizona Daily Star
9 Min Read

The second-place Tucson Roadrunners clinched a playoff a spot on Wednesday night but remain a bad weekend away from dropping out of hosting first-round postseason games in the AHL’s ultra-competitive Pacific Division.

Tucson returns home this weekend in second place with 10 games left and having clinched a playoff spot thanks to the San Diego Gulls’ loss on Wednesday night. However, the Roadrunners (36-21-3-2) are just three points ahead of the fifth-place Bakersfield Condors.

Seven out of the 10 Pacific teams make the American Hockey League playoffs. The regular-season champion receives a bye and seeds two, three and four host first-round games while five, six and seven must hit the road.

“Our guys understand what the challenges are and where we’re at with all of that,” Tucson coach Steve Potvin said. “This is part of the game and this is part of growth and there is so much growth that is right here, that is right in front of us.

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“I know that our guys are excited to go out and grab it because these types of games, these types of scenarios — this is when you’re challenged the most,” he added. “So I think the guys should find a lot of enjoyment in this position.”

The Roadrunners host the ninth-place San Diego Gulls (22-30-8-0) on Friday and Saturday nights. With 52 points, the Gulls are fighting for their playoff lives.

“We’re trying to still be urgent and diligent out there with our details and obviously these games are important. It’s a really tight race,” Tucson defenseman Cameron Crotty said. “So there’s not time for being comfortable in your current position. You’re trying to continue to grab those points and secure home ice and clinch a good playoff spot.”

Tucson has 77 points, the sixth-most in the AHL. The Coachella Valley Firebirds lead the division with 87 points and 10 games left.

Not counting the COVID-19-altered 2021 season when all Pacific Division teams saw at least one playoff game, Tucson returned to a full Calder Cup Playoff grid last year for the first time since 2018 last season. But the Roadrunners didn’t get to host any postseason games. The last White Out at Tucson Arena was in 2018.

“It’s been a long time,” Potvin said. “The faithful have been supporting us and been longing for this type of environment, this type of team.

“It’s gonna be the best feeling ever just to be give back and play in front of our tans.”

The Roadrunners will start selling playoff passes on Apr. 3. Playoff passes reserve the seats for the whole postseason at a discount over single-game tickets.

After spending the entire 2023-24 season with the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners, Arizona Coyotes forward Josh Doan, right, smiles as he celebrates his two-goal NHL debut with teammates Juuso Valimaki (4) and fellow former Roadrunner Matias Maccelli (63), after the team’s 6-2 win over Columbus on Tuesday in Tempe.

Doan’s NHL debut

The Arizona Coyotes called up forward Josh Doan on Monday, and he made his NHL debut on Tuesday, scoring two goals in their 6-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“Oh it was so much fun wasn’t it?” Potvin said. “It was fun to watch him play.”

Doan became the first Coyotes to score multiple goals in his debut.

“I told him he might score a goal and he ended up scoring two so he proved me right and wrong I guess,” Crotty said. “No, he’s a phenomenal player and played really, really well.”

Doan could be back for the playoffs.

“I think we can expect him to be back for the playoffs,” Potvin said. “We should expect that for sure but who knows, there’s other possibilities that may open up for him.”

Arizona Coyotes defenseman Cameron Crotty skates in his first-career NHL game against the Dallas Stars Sunday in Tempe.

Next man up

Doan is the 17th Roadrunner recalled to the Arizona Coyotes this season, which is an all-time franchise high. The previous record came in 2021-22, which saw 16 players get recalled to the Arizona Coyotes from Tucson. Cam Crotty’s call-up on Sunday marked 16 for the team; he made his NHL debut on the same day for the Coyotes.

“Oh it was great. It was cool. It was a bit unexpected — obviously I was expecting to play (for the Roadrunner) against San Jose that day and getting that call early in the morning was awesome,” he said.

“Such a dream come true — all those cliché words but it’s so true,” Crotty said. “It was surreal. I’m finding it hard to put into words still.”

In 2021-22, Tucson went 23-39-5-1, finishing eighth place out of nine teams but Crotty felt setting the team record for call-ups this year was a better fit.

“I think they go hand in hand,” Crotty said. “I think the better the team does, the more rewards there are out there for people.

“Obviously it’s great to have both. Guys are getting rewarded by getting to play games in the NHL and at the same time our team’s doing really, really well this year.”

Potvin said the call-ups motivate players who haven’t been by telling them they are close.

“A lot of people have asked the same about ‘oh, it’s gonna be tough to lose Josh’ in these situations,” Potvin said, “(but) it’s great.

“This is what this league is about. We want to develop players. We want to develop leaders and it means a lot to our process. It means a lot to our organization to be able to have the young players be able to go up and down.”

No cowbell

This series is part of “Hockey Is For Everyone” weekend.

Tucson will have a Sensory Free Family Games and Sensory Room and is asking fans to leave their cowbells at home to allow Tucson Arena to be more sensory friendly this go-round.

Tucson Roadrunners’ All-Star goaltender Matthew Villalta (31) absorbs a shot from the visiting San Diego Gulls, holding his team’s one goal lead while defending a six-on-five scenario in the final minutes of the third period of the teams’ Oct. 24, 2023 matchup at Tucson Arena.

Trophy hunting

Tucson has a chance to clinch the I-8 Border Trophy this weekend.

The Roadrunners are 4-0-0-0 against the Gulls this season, with four games left in the season series.

Tucson has won the trophy six of the seven seasons it has been contested and is 20-14-2-0 against SD the last five seasons.

VIDEO: Tucson Roadrunners forward Josh Doan buries a slick shootout goal goal during the’ 4-3 shootout loss at the Henderson Silver Knights on Friday, March 1, 2024 in Henderson, Nevada. (Courtesy Tucson Roadrunners)

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James Kelley Special to the Arizona Daily Star , tucson.com
tucson.com – Vivrr Local Results in sports/arizonawildcats of type article , 2024-03-28 21:30:00
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