Two additions played key roles in two wins as the Roadrunners retook first place in the Pacific Division over the last seven days.
The busy stretch of days begin on Monday, the date of the NHL’s Trade Deadline, bringing forward Markus Hannikainen to Arizona from the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Finnish forward that has just shy of 100 games of experience at the world’s best level was subsequently assigned to the Roadrunners, bolstering their presence on the wings as the team moves toward the playoffs.
Received in exchange for a 2020 conditional seventh round draft pick belonging to the Coyotes, the newest forward arrived in Southern Arizona Tuesday night, just hours ahead of a midweek meeting with his new club against the San Diego Gulls.
Wednesday vs. San Diego (4-1 Win)
As Hannikainen made his team debut in the contest, eventually recording his first point on a Michael Chaput third period goal, the week’s opening game also featured the return of Adin Hill to the American Hockey League level for the first time in over a month.
After spending the greater portion of two months with the parent club due to injuries to Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta, good health brought the now fourth-year Roadrunner back to his normal pecking order in the organization’s goaltending depth chart, thus allowing him to get some starts with Tucson, just in time for the stretch run.
And boy, did Hill look like an NHL goaltender in his first back. Stopping 29 of 30 he was noted as the evening’s first star, denying 26 of those 29 in the opening and closing periods.
While he was marvelous, the x-factor of the evening, something that made Hill’s job easier as a whole, was the team’s discipline. Something that had haunted and cost the team games as of late was a parade to the penalty box, something they were able to stay away from against their I-8 rival, an offensively gifted club that continues to surge their way up the standings, en route to an imperative win.
Friday at Ontario (8-4 Loss)
Taking on the Reign for the eighth time this season after seven previously successful attempts, it looked as if it would be smooth sailing for Tucson, especially after the first 2:12 in.
One shot, one goal. Two shots, two goals.
That’s how it started.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t how it finished.
Ontario gained some momentum with a goal before the end of the first and then tacked on two more to start the second. In fact, the only tally that got in their way of scoring five unanswered was Hannikainen’s first with the team, which came as a result of being in good position near the front of the net.
As mentioned though, Ontario would score twice more before the end of the second and then three times in the third to take the win.
It wasn’t discipline that was an issue, it was one that was cited post-game by members of the locker room as just getting too comfortable with an early lead, however, kudos has to be given to the Reign, who put together an effort that the Roadrunners hadn’t seen from them yet this year.
Sunday at Bakersfield (3-2 Win)
The weekend wrapped up with a similar start but different end to Friday.
One shot, one goal. Then, a second came within the first five minutes.
A second goal that will be denoted below as our highlight of the week, a between-the-legs goal from Hannikainen that made national news stations and raised eyebrows around the hockey world.
The incredible individual effort was followed by a much stronger effort from the team in terms of playing with an early lead, as a second period power play goal from Kyle Capobianco was all they needed on top of the two goals to secure the win before leaving California.
Part of the reason that the team was stronger defensively was a byproduct of the evening that Hill put together in net, stopping 32 of 34 along the way, including 14 in the third period to shut the door on a late charge from the home team.
Where They Stand
Record: 33-18-1-2 (69 Points / .639 Win Percentage)
Pacific Division: First Place / First Place
Western Conference: Eighth Place / Third Place
The Week That Was
Wednesday, February 26
Gulls (1) at Roadrunners (4)
Friday, February 28
Roadrunners (4) at Reign (38)
Sunday, March 1
Roadrunners (3) at Condors (2)
Mechanics Bank Arena
Up & Down
Monday, February 24
- Forward Markus Hannikainen acquired by Arizona (NHL) from Columbus (NHL), assigned to Tucson.
- Goaltender Adin Hill loaned to Tucson from Arizona (NHL).
- Defenseman Aaron Ness recalled from Tucson by Arizona (NHL).
Wednesday, February 26
- Goaltender Tyler Parks released from professional tryout.
- Forward Matteo Gennaro loaned to Rapid City.
Alumni In Action
Deviating from the usual spotlighting of one player, entering the final full month of the regular season brings a bit of reflection in regards to what has transpired this season.
How cool is it that since October we’ve seen Antti Raanta, Darcy Kuemper, Barrett Hayton and Ilya Lyubushkin in Roadrunners sweaters? When you factor in Christian Fischer, Conor Garland, Lawson Crouse, Jason Demers, Aaron Ness and others, it seems that on almost any given night that about half, if not more, of the Coyotes lineup has spent at least a little time in Tucson. That’s an established pipeline now.
In The System
Just as Markus Hannikainen scored one of the goals of the year at the AHL-level on Sunday, 24 hours prior Keeghan Howdeshell made a similar contribution at the ECHL-level.
As we’ve seen displayed at the NHL-level this season by Andrei Svechnikov and others, Howdeshell executed a lacrosse-style goal, commonly regarded to by some as “The Michigan”, scooping up the puck and tucking it home over the shoulder of the goaltender. You can see it for yourself HERE.
Highlight Of The Week
As we hope you’ve seen by now here, Markus Hannikainen did something special last night in Bakersfield.
Reaching Sportscenter as number six on the top plays of the day, the between-the-legs maneuver requires such a high-level of skill to execute by itself, let alone in game action and in tight on the netminder as he did here. The best goal in four years of Roadrunners hockey? Perhaps.