While the Arizona Coyotes were playing spoilers against the St. Louis Blues their AHL affiliate was playing a more slightly more important game. On the road the Roadrunners beat the Iowa Wild 4-3 to secure their first playoff spot since the team relocated to Tucson.
The Coyotes have definitely struggled this season, but down in Tucson the Roadrunners have been a solid team in the AHL. They are 7-2-1-0 in their last 10 games and 38-19-5-1 on the season. This means the Roadrunners have the 4th best record in their league and the best record in their conference. For a stretch it seemed like the Coyotes were actively trying to keep their prospects in Tucson to keep them in a winning environment. While that appears to be no longer the case, Coyotes fans can not deny that Dylan Strome’s time in Tucson has helped him become a better player. This will undoubtedly help the Roadrunners when Strome likely returns to Tucson after the Coyotes season ends on April 7.
The Roadrunners are the first team in the Western Conference to clinch a playoff spot and seem likely to win the Pacific Division in the AHL. They have six points on the second place Ontario Reign with five games left in the regular season. Their last regular season game will be on April 14 at the Tucson Arena.
If the Roadrunners win their division it will be the fifth time in franchise history, the Springfield Falcons having won in the 1995-96, 1997-98, 2012-13, and 2013-14. The Falcons were affiliated with the original Winnipeg Jets from 1994, through the NHL team’s relocation to Arizona, until 2004. They were affiliated with the Columbus Blue Jackets starting in the 2010-11 season through the 2014-15 season. The affiliation with the Coyotes was revived for the 2015-2016 season, then purchased and relocated to Tucson for the 2016-17 season.
Clinching the playoffs isn’t the only goal for the team. When the team’s Digital Content Manager Alexander Kinkopf asked Captain Andrew Campbell he said that the team has their sights on winning the division, the conference and the Calder Cup. Forward Conor Garland on the other hand was looking at an even bigger prize: the hearts and minds of fans.
"The playoffs...it's faster, it's more intense, it's better hockey. If people -- if the kids...if the kids get to see it and fall in love with the game, that’s how [the sport] grows, and it would be pretty special to be a part of that."— Alexander Kinkopf (@AEKinkopf) April 1, 2018
Coyotes fans definitely have reasons to be disappointed with this season, and it lead to a lot of fans looking for silver linings. One of those silver linings has been the success of the Tucson Roadrunners, and the hope it could give Coyotes fans for the future. And while we all wish it had happened differently, playoff hockey is returning to Arizona for the first time since 2012. Its time to bring the Whiteout to Tucson.