Hockey Continues to Grow with Roadrunners in Tucson
TUCSON, AZ - The Tucson Roadrunners, proud American Hockey League affiliate of the Arizona Coyotes, and the sport of hockey continue to grow at record margins in all age groups and skill levels heading into the club's fourth season in Tucson.
Along with leading the Pacific Division with a record of 66-46-10-4 since Opening Night 2017, fans continue to pack Tucson Arena. 12,171 came to Tucson Arena April 12 and 13 to wrap up the year, including a sell out crowd of 6,521 in the season finale. The back-to-back set marks the highest attended Friday-Saturday weekend in three seasons of the Roadrunners in Tucson. Over 150,000 fans came through the doors of Tucson Arena this season, becoming the most of any of the three seasons played here in Tucson. The club's average attendance of 4,294 fans-per-game is the highest attendance for a professional sports team in Tucson since at least 2002.
While fans continue to fill the home of the Roadrunners, the building serves as much more than just the home to the professional team. Also utilized by the University of Arizona Men's Hockey Team (ACHA), the Tucson Junior Roadrunners, Tucson Adult Hockey League (TAHL) and other programs, the desire for another accessible ice surface in Tucson remains strong.
"The Roadrunners are excited to be on the leading edge of growing the sport of hockey in Southern Arizona," said Roadrunners President Bob Hoffman. "The response and interest from people of all ages in Tucson and the surrounding area, in learning how to play the sport of hockey, has been thrilling to see. We are continually looking at new programs and taking new steps to generate more opportunity and access for people to continue their path in the sport or to take it up for the first time.The future of hockey in Tucson is very bright."
The most storied season of the youth hockey program in Tucson was the 2018-19 campaign, highlighted by the program's first-ever appearance in a state championship game.
The Tucson High School Roadrunners, in their first season as a part of the program, participated in the Arizona High School Hockey Association Division III State Championship in February, a historical mark and tone set for years to come for the high school program.
Thanks to their success, the program will be elevated to the Division II structure for the 2019-20 season with a large amount of the roster returning. Additionally, the program hopes to field two teams in the fall, displaying further the growth.
Not to be outdone, the 10U Junior Roadrunners made history of their own earlier this month, winning the Frozen Four Tournament Championship in El Paso.
In total, Tucson's youth hockey community is on the verge of eclipsing 200 USA Hockey registered players, a new high for the program since the Roadrunners arrival in Tucson. Of that margin, nearly half that are registered are under the age of eight, showing the interest of even the youngest age groups in Southern Arizona.
Tucson Junior Roadrunners President Jeremy Bow stated, "Now, we are bursting at the seams [with interest] and we have our first generation of Tucson youngsters who are growing up with hockey, both as players and fans. We have more hockey players than we have ice to put them on. With TCC being the only sheet of ice in the city, we are faced with a tough decision: turn away new players, or over-crowd the ice. As a growing program, we know the most important thing is to get the kids on the ice, so that's what we do."
Guided by U.S. Olympian and Arizona-born Lyndsey Fry, the first female-only program brought its "Small Fry's" clinic to Tucson on March 9, encompassing an all-female staff to work with the 30 registered skaters here at Tucson Arena.
Working hand-in-hand with the Junior Roadrunners program, the goal for the 2019-20 season is to have an all-girls team from Tucson in competition, while having additional Small Fry's clinics.
For more information on the Small Fry's, click HERE.
Launched during the 2018-19 Roadrunners season was "Dusty's P.E. Program" - the inaugural step to bringing floor hockey into Southern Arizona physical education programs.
From October to April the program ventured into 23 different Tucson-area schools, teaching children the basics of the game and providing many with their first introduction to the sport. Ranging as far north as Estes Elementary in Marana to extending as far south as Continental Elementary in Green Valley, 12,327 children enjoyed participating in the "coolest sport" in Southern Arizona.
With each school receiving their own set of sticks, balls, nets and Coyotes/Roadrunners pennies, the program will continue to grow into the 2019-20 season. Each student also received a complimentary ticket for a Roadrunners home game this season.
While the growth of youth hockey is on full display in Tucson, the love of the game ranges to the recreational community as well, as shown with another capacity year for the Tucson Adult Hockey League (TAHL).
Due to popular demand the league added another four teams for the Fall 2018 season, bringing their total to 16 teams and 240 players. Each season the league has reached that capacity and then turns to a waiting list with free agents hoping to grab a spot in the only association in Tucson for adult play.
For the first time as well the league added a 2019 Spring League, proving the ice will be utilized when open.
To learn more about the TAHL, visit their information page HERE.
Also making its way to Tucson for the 2018-19 season was the Little Howlers program, an on-ice youth hockey program hosted in cooperation with the Arizona Coyotes development program, the National Hockey League's "Learn to Play Program", USA Hockey, CCM and local rinks.
The program, which consists of six (6) one-hour sessions designed to provide kids ages 5-9 a risk-free introduction to the sport of hockey, and includes a full head-to-toe set of gear, complete with stick and skates, runs just $150.
The Coyotes plan to host another Little Howler's session in Tucson this upcoming season as well. Registration begins in August and typically fills up within the first week. To learn how to sign your child up, visit the program's page HERE.
The local inline hockey program is also experiencing a high rate of growth over the past season, taxing the capacity of their current schedule at the Tucson Indoor Sports Center. With youth programs utilizing the majority of Friday evenings for several years, Erik Dahl, President of the Junior Wildcats, says that they're now being forced to look at other days of the week and time slots to meet the demand.
"We've especially seen a huge growth in the number of really young hockey players and the number of girls playing hockey. The travel portion of the Tucson Junior Wildcats has grown each season since 2014 with the 2018-19 being no different. One difference about the most recent campaign was that all five age divisions in the Inline Hockey Association of Arizona (IHAAZ) for the first time."
To learn how to get involved with the Junior Wildcats, learn more about them HERE.
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