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Roadrunners claim Border Trophy, Western Conference title in win over San Diego

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Mario Kempe’s two-goal night puts the San Diego Gulls on their heels as they face elimination on Saturday.

1 Photo Courtesy of Tucson Roadrunners

The Tucson Roadrunners defeated the San Diego Gulls 3-2 on Friday in a back-and-forth battle that sends their rivals on the verge of playoff elimination.

The Roadrunners defeated the Gulls earlier on Wednesday, where they shut them out 4-0 on their own home ice. With Wednesday’s win, the Roadrunners officially claimed the Pacific Division regular season title. But the team believed they still had a lot of extra work to do.

They returned to the TCC on Friday night, ready to build on their already historic season. Tucson needed a regulation win over San Diego to claim two more feats: The I-8 Border Trophy and the Western Conference regular season title.

That is exactly what they did.

The Roadrunners opened their scoring with a goal from defenseman Dysin Mayo assisted by Dylan Strome and Lawson Crouse just over six minutes into the period.

But the Gulls wouldn’t let that go too easy, tying the game near the 15:00 mark in the same period.

By the end of the first period, it seemed as if all the momentum was shifting in favor of the Gulls. They had a significant 14-5 shot advantage over Tucson. But the Roadrunners would slowly claw their way back into the game, getting off 13 shots in the second, as opposed to San Diego’s 6.

Mario Kempe scored the first of his two goals on Friday with a dish from Joel Hanley into the net on the power play. But, once again, San Diego’s Kevin Roy did not want to go down, tying it back up with just 12 seconds remaining in the second.

The third period, was probably Tucson’s best period of the night. Once again, the Roadrunners outshot their opponents 10-6 (for a finally shot tally of 28-26). But that wasn’t it. The battle kept close up until the final couple minutes of play, where Mario Kempe found Kevin Boyle’s glove side and buried the game winning goal, giving Tucson the 3-2 win.

With his two-goal game Kempe was named the first star of the game, and after the game, he was showered with praise.

“Mario just works and works,” Roadrunners head coach Mike Van Ryn said . “We feel very forturnate to have him in our organization. He’s kind of what we’re looking for in players… he deserves everything he gets because how much he puts into the game. And his love for the game is such a great example for our young guys to see how hard you can go when you take care of yourself, what you’re capable of doing.”

With the win, the Roadrunners officially clinch the Western Conference regular season title and will play with home-ice advantage through the first three rounds of the Calder Cup Playoffs. But since they won in regulation, they also won the I-8 Border Trophy – the regular season series trophy between Tucson and San Diego.

“I love seeing my guys get rewarded,” Van Ryn said after the game. “They worked so hard all year. They bought in and they believe in the message that was sent day one with Coach Tocchet and John Chayka.”

The Roadrunners have now only one more game remaining in the regular season – also against San Diego on Saturday – and the Roadrunners say these last games remain to be very important ones.

In fact, Saturday night’s game outcome will play a major factor in who Tucson’s first round playoff opponent will be.

If Tucson defeats San Diego in regulation, the Gulls will officially be eliminated from playoff contention. And after that, the winner of Saturday’s San Jose Barracuda vs Stockton Heat season finale will get the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The puck drop of Tucson’s regular season finale against San Diego will take place at 7:05 pm on Saturday at the Tucson Convention Center.