By CASEY MUSE JR.
Ice hockey surely is not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of things to do in Tucson.
Average temperatures regularly reach the 70s during winter months and snow is pretty much a foreign object.
Despite all that, the National Hockey League Arizona Coyotes agreed in April 2016 to purchase their American Hockey League affiliate team, the Springfield Falcons, and relocate them to Tucson.
In May, the team signed a 10-year lease to play home games at the Tucson Convention Center downtown.
After a local naming contest, the franchise officially became the Tucson Roadrunners.
Mark Lamb of the Western Hockey League’s Swift Current Broncos became the Roadrunners’ first head coach in June.
“We have a lot of guys playing hard,” Lamb said. “Talent-wise and player-wise, we are working hard.”
New franchise brass have worked hard to put together a competitive roster in the first year.
Young stars like defenseman Kyle Wood offer an opportunity for locals to experience the future of professional hockey.
“It’s been really fun playing here,” Wood said.
Besides building a winner, the biggest challenge for the team is garnering community support. Several names behind the scenes are determined to do just that.
Director of Media Relations Tom Callahan is an East Coast guy who has loved the sport of hockey since he was a kid.
“Coming to a market like Tucson, where I believe only University of Arizona club hockey has been played occasionally, is definitely a challenge,” Callahan said. “It is like a mission to bring hockey to people who may or may not be fans, or maybe they are casual fans.”
Callahan stressed the importance of exposing children to the game.
“There are kids out here who are experiencing their first hockey game and maybe they are hooked, maybe they’ve found a new favorite player and will try to get their parents to take them skating and get them involved,” he said. “It is all about sharing that passion and creating fans.”
Callahan broadcasts play-by-play for every game on AM radio 1450. The station is also available on the iheartradio app for students.
To encourage attendance, the club offers a Tucson Roadrunners student rush pass.
Eligible students can visit tucsonroadrunners.com and provide their name, phone number and an active collegiate email address.
The club will contact students via text message on game day to offer special drink and concession deals.
Digital Operations Manager Alexander Kinkopf is in charge of running the team’s various social media accounts, and considers it his job to make hockey appealing to college students.
“People get so tired of the traditional final scores or player updates,” he said. “When people see an official team account show some sort of personality or some sort of voice, it really strikes a chord.”
Kinkopf keeps up with trends in an effort to make the Roadrunner’s social media more relatable.
“One of the most fun parts of my job is to be able to be creative with the sport and to be able to relate it to pop culture,” he said.
Kinkopf encourages students to follow the Roadrunners on Twitter @RoadrunnersAHL or like the team page on Facebook.
“It is very important to us to cater to the local college students here,” he said.
Hockey is arguably the most entertaining sport on the planet. It is fast-paced and action-packed, making it is easy for a casual fan to evolve into a die-hard.
Pima Community College students can enjoy the experience first-hand by supporting the Tucson Roadrunners.
Single-game tickets start at $14. For more information or to buy tickets, call 866-77-HOCKEY toll-free or visit tucsonroadrunners.com.
Feb. 24, 25, 28: San Jose, TCC, 7:05 p.m.
March 17, 18: Bakersfield, TCC, 7:05 p.m.
March 25: San Jose, TCC, 7:05 p.m.
March 26: San Jose, TCC, 4:05 p.m.
March 28: San Antonio, TCC, 7:05 p.m.
March 31: San Diego, TCC, 7:05 p.m.
April 1: San Diego, TCC, 7:05 p.m.