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Tucson Roadrunners: Things to watch for ahead of 2019 home opener

Tucson set to begin their fourth season in the Old Pueblo

Photo courtesy of Tucson Roadrunners

The Tucson Roadrunners’ season has been underway for two weeks now, finishing 2-1 entering this week. Now, they will have a chance to begin their home campaign with a string of home games against San Antonio, Iowa, and Chicago.

The road to the Calder Cup playoffs is a long journey, and it begins at home. After failing to make the playoffs last year, second-year head coach Jay Varady will lead the charge once more for another shot. But there have been some changes to the team over the last few months that you’ll need to know before the Roadrunners take the Tucson Convention Center ice for the first time since April.

“O’ Captain, My Captain”

Right before the season began, the Roadrunners named forward Micheal Chaput as the team’s fourth team captain, succeeding Craig Cunningham, Andrew Campbell, and Dakota Mermis.

According to an earlier media release from the Roadrunners, it will be Chaput’s first time as a team captain in his professional career.

Chaput joined the Roadrunners late last season — acquired by the team at the trade deadline — during a period that saw other top team players move up to the Coyotes, or suffer long-term injuries.

Chaput will be joined by alternate captains Micheal Bunting, Andy Miele, and Robbie Russo.

A whole new group of goaltenders

Earlier in the off-season, we reported that goaltender Hunter Miska would not receive a qualifying offer from the Coyotes. It was a decision to be made for an organization that has a really deep group in place.

This year Roadrunners fans will have the chance to see some new faces between the pipes. Adin Hill will continue to be the de-facto starting goaltender for Tucson, but behind him this year will be 20-year-old Ivan Prosvetov who makes his way to Tucson by way of the Saginaw Spirit (OHL).

Should it ever be necessary, Tucson has “reserve” goaltenders playing in Rapid City (ECHL). The first of which everyone is already familiar with, Merrick Madsen (aka the Merrick-le on Ice); the second is Erik Kallgren who has been playing in the Swedish league for the last few years.

It is good to know Tucson has a good pipeline of goaltenders in case an injury bug hits again.

Key Additions

Although Tucson might have lost a chunk of some fan favorite players, they added a new set of players, who might just fit the bill to become favorites in due time.

Jon Martin was added as a free agent after spending last year with the San Jose Barracuda. There he recorded 28 points in 57 games.

Kevin Hancock signed a one year deal with Tucson after having “graduated” from the OHL. He produced high numbers in the junior level recording 291 points in 266 games, and earning “OHL second All-Star team” honors last year.

A “Full & Healthy” Season with Nick Merkley?

Last year, Nick Merkley joined the Roadrunners in late December, after recovering from a season-ending lower body injury the year before. It took him a while to get back to full speed in game time, yet by the time he was healthy, the Roadrunners season had already dropped a good chunk in the standings.

Merkley’s presence late in the season, among some other deadline acquisitions, did help the Roadrunners eventually get back on track, but their tough month proved fatal, as they narrowly missed the playoffs by one point.

Now, take Merkley’s contributions from late last season and translate them to this season? Things might be looking quite well for this Roadrunners team. It’s a new year, let’s see how he rolls.

Other Players to Watch: Lane Pederson (F), Tyler Steenbergen (F), Nate Schnarr (F) , Vince Pedrie (D)

Season Predictions:

It’s tough to make concrete predictions at the beginning of an AHL season — given the amount of turn-over teams face over the course of just a few months. But this Roadrunners team looks promising.

I’m sure there’s a chip on their shoulder after having narrowly missed the Calder Cup playoffs last year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it act as motivation. Despite that, I’m going to attempt to make some crazy predictions, both very specific, and very broad, to add a bit of fun to this season preview. So, here we go:

  • Nick Merkley will record over 50 points
  • 7 players will record 15 goals or more
  • Micheal Bunting will get called up to Glendale for a brief period again in midseason.
  • Tucson will finish in second in the Pacific Division, right behind their newest rival Colorado Eagles

DISCLAIMER: Although some of the above could happen (some more likely than others), these predictions are strictly for entertainment value and should not be a hold for real expectations.

For continued Tucson Roadrunners coverage follow Rob Leano on Twitter @RobLeano1