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Roadrunners defeat Gulls, ready for playoffs

Despite resting several of their players, Tucson sweeps a back-to-back home series for the first time since November.

photo courtesy of the Tucson Roadrunners

The Tucson Roadrunners swept the San Diego Gulls this week with a 6-3 win on the team’s regular season finale. The win pushes the Roadrunners final regular season record to 42-20-5-1 (First in the Pacific, first in the West, and fourth in the AHL) and a lot of momentum headed into the Calder Cup Playoffs.

The win gives the Roadrunners the first back-to-back home sweep since November 10-11 against the Bakersfield Condors.

If you missed the action this weekend, here’s your weekly roundup to get you all caught up.

Roadrunners have a lot of depth:

Heading into the finale, the Roadrunners decided to sit out a lot of their usual players to give them rest for the playoffs. As the team neared puck drop and announced the lineup, the only familiar line, was the first defensive pair with Kyle Capobianco and Kyle Wood. All other lines were a mix-up with some fresh faces alongside established Roadrunner veterans.

But despite, the shake-up the Roadrunners still shutdown the San Diego Gulls and played with effort that impressed the fans and the coaches.

“We obviously sat out some guys, and the guys that came in were difference makers tonight,” Roadrunners head coach Mike Van Ryn said after the game.

“We had two guys who played large amounts in the East Coast League this year who were key contributors tonight… There were contributions from everyone tonight. And it’s great to see, you want to go into the postseason on a winning note and the guys provided that.”

Gross makes his professional debut

Saturday night’s win also featured a fresh new face on the ice for Roadrunners fans. Defenseman Jordan Gross -- who signed an entry-level amateur tryout (ATO) contract with the Roadrunners earlier this week – skated in his professional debut in the regular season finale.

Gross joined the Roadrunners after appearing in the NCAA Men’s Hockey Championship game with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

“It was definitely a real quick turnaround,” Gross said when asked about transitioning from NCAA to the AHL. “It was really exciting to get out here and play my first game.”

In his pro debut, Gross also tallied his first pro points with a pair of assists.

“I felt pretty good out there,” he said. “It definitely took a little bit in the first period to get my legs underneath me. But it felt good… I played with (Trevor Murphy) most of the night and he did a good job on helping me out along the way.”

Gearing up for the Playoffs

With Saturday’s regulation win, the Roadrunners also eliminated the San Diego Gulls from playoff contention, knocking them down to fifth in the Pacific Division, and Van Ryn said he was “really proud” of their willingness to win, despite having everything locked up on their end already.

“They didn’t have to win the game,” he said after the game. “And they were pretty mad when they pulled within one. The guys really wanted to win it and that’s great you should want to win every game you go on the ice.”

Now that the Gulls are eliminated, the Roadrunners will play a red-hot San Jose Barracuda team in the first round of the playoffs.

The Barracuda were on the verge of playoff elimination just weeks ago, but they won six games down the stretch, climbing back up the Pacific Division Standings. With their win vs Stockton on Saturday, they claimed the fourth-place spot, and will thus be Tucson’s first round opponent.

“It’s going to be a hard-fought series,” Van Ryn said. “They played us well all year and we've got to be ready for them. We got to put together a better game plan than we have in the past and our execution has got to be better and we’re getting to work already on that.”

Tucson will have a week off before heading out to San Jose, where they will start the first two games of the best-of-five series.

Van Ryn’s Season Recap:

After the season finale, coach Van Ryn – who completed his first regular season in Tucson -- spent a lot of time reflecting on the Roadrunners' season and their growth this year.

“It was a good year,” he said. “Coming in, we just were like ‘let’s just try to make it in the playoffs and give the young guys a taste of what’s that like,’ and you know what… they just kept growing. From day one they bought in, we pushed them hard and they accepted. They took a lot of pride in trying to learn the way that Coach (Rick) Tocchet wants them to play.

“We had great leadership all year in that room. Those guys were phenomenal, and they brought the young guys along. They made them feel a part of it and made them feel comfortable. It’s been a lot of fun."

Van Ryn continued, praising his team for continuing to stick together and never faltering too much throughout the season and says things will work out for them if they continue to “trust the process” heading into the playoffs.

“And (in the playoffs), everything is magnified,” he added. “This is what you work for all year. The division championship and winning the west is all great but, it’s the playoff wins, it’s trying to win that trophy at the very end is what matters, and that’s what you strive for. For us there’s still a lot of work to be done and we’re going to learn a lot about ourselves going through it.”

Other Meeps:

  • Lawson Crouse scored the opening goal on the Roadrunners first shot the night in Saturday night’s effort, extending his point streak to eight games.
  • The San Jose Barracuda are the only team in the AHL that Tucson has a losing record to this season (3-4-1-0).
  • With three minutes remaining in Saturday night’s game, Scottsdale native, Zac Larraza skated past the defense and rocketed a shot past the Gulls goaltender, Reto Berra, to give the Roadrunners the 5-3 lead.