There’s a new team in town and this one seems to be here for the long haul.
Tucson has had it’s flirtations with pro baseball with the Sidewinders, Toros, Padres as well as the spring training home for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks. Eventually each of the following left the Old Pueblo and with it a gaping hole longing for something to root for other than the University of Arizona.
When it was announced earlier this year that the Arizona Coyotes were thinking of moving their top-level affiliate team from Springfield, Mass. the city was abuzz with the opportunity that it would actually move to Tucson. There were the typical nay-sayers and detractors commenting that Tucson couldn’t support a pro franchise even on the AAA-level or there was not enough of a fan base for ice hockey in the desert.
Boy, were they wrong.
In an announcement at the Tucson Convention Center on Saturday, the new local American Hockey League franchise, and affiliate of the Arizona Coyotes, revealed its name to be the Tucson Roadrunners. The organization held a “name the team” contest and Roadrunners was the “overwhelming favorite,” said Coyotes co-owner Anthony LeBlanc.
“We were just so overwhelmed with the support we saw and the names that were submitted,” LeBlanc said. “We knew that was the right name.”
The owners, coaches and prominent representatives were all on hand for the announcement.
“The turnout was incredible. Quite frankly it exceeded my expectations,” said Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild. “There has been excitement. It’s a community that wants good things to happen and it’s a sports community. So you have this level of sports activity it just makes people feel better about it and it creates a good buzz.”
New head coach Mark Lamb is eager to develop new players for the big boys in Glendale. Lamb’s coaching resume includes six seasons as an assistant to Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett when Tippett was behind the bench in Dallas from 2002-09.
Also in the mix are are Mark Hardy as the primary assistant coach and Corey Schwab who will coach the goaltenders. Hardy also coached with Tippett; both were assistants with the Los Angeles Kings under Andy Murray from 1999-2002.
Now on to the big business of getting the home of the Roadrunners renovated. While the Tucson IceCats have played at the Convention Center for years, there will a litany of improvements made to the location in preparation of the new minor league team. The Rio Nuevo Board approved $3.7 million in upgrades to the arena.
The project will include locker room renovations, a new Zamboni, new dasher boards, an additional video system, renovation of the ice making equipment, and a new retail store.
The season won’t start until the end of October, but on Oct. 9 the team will host a red-and-white intrasquad game in which all of the Coyotes’ NHL players will play along with the AHL roster from the Roadrunners. Admission is free, but the Coyotes are asking fans for a $5 donation upon entry, with all proceeds going toward the University of Arizona hockey program.
The Roadrunners will play in the American Hockey League’s Pacific Division. In 2015-16, the Pacific Division featured the AHL affiliates of the Anaheim Ducks (San Diego Gulls), Calgary Flames (Stockton Heat), Colorado Avalanche (San Antonio Rampage), Dallas Stars (Texas Stars), Edmonton Oilers (Bakersfield Condors), Los Angeles Kings (Ontario Reign) and San Jose Sharks (San Jose Barracuda).
The season will begin in earnest on October 28 and ticket prices will range from $10 to $40 per game with discounts for season ticket packages. Visit arizonacoyotes.com/ahl or call 866-415-4695. Fans can also email ticket representatives at firstname.lastname@example.org.