Coyotes name AHL affiliate Tucson Roadrunners
TUCSON — A familiar face will re-enter the Arizona sports lexicon this fall. The Arizona Coyotes announced on Saturday at the Tucson Convention Center Arena that they would name their newly purchased American Hockey League affiliate the Tucson Roadrunners. The team begins play this fall.
The Coyotes held a name-the-team contest on their website and president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc said they received between 50 and 60 different names.
“We were so overwhelmed with the support we saw and the number of people who submitted names,” said LeBlanc, who is also the team’s AHL governor. “But No. 1 with a bullet was the Roadrunners. Compared to the second-place name, the Roadrunners had double the amount (of votes) of that second choice.”
The Roadrunners name has been associated with Arizona hockey for the past 50 years. Originally, the Phoenix Roadrunners played in the Western Hockey League from 1967-1974. They moved to the World Hockey Association for four seasons from 1974-1977 before folding due to financial reasons.
Ten years later, the Roadrunners returned as members of the International Hockey League, but the team once again left town when the Coyotes moved to Phoenix in 1996. They came back as an ECHL affiliate for the San Jose Sharks from 2005-2009.
“The history of the Roadrunners is the history of hockey in Arizona,” LeBlanc said. “I think it’s important as we grow the sport that we consistently look to the great history, the storied history that this sport has in the state as well as here in Tucson.”
Along with the name the Coyotes also unveiled a revamped logo with copper accents because of Arizona’s mining history. LeBlanc said the team will decide on uniforms in the “next week or so” and unveil them later this summer.
LeBlanc has long coveted Tucson as the site for the team’s AHL affiliate due to its proximity and the ability of the team to call up players quickly in the case of injuries. The proximity will also allow the staffs to work more closely together toward the same goals, but LeBlanc also sees the move as another step toward growing the game in Arizona.
“How you grow the sport in Tucson is you get more kids playing and to do so you need more sheets of ice,” he said, noting that Tucson has no permanent ice sheets. “That’s our next focus.”
Rio Nuevo District Chairman Fletcher McCusker said the city would like to have a practice facility for the Roadrunners, University of Arizona and youth hockey built within the year and a half. The city also hopes to complete the rebuilt back of the house areas at the Tucson Civic Center Arena by Sept. 21. Those will include new locker rooms for the University of Arizona as well two new AHL locker room, a weight room, a training room, a laundry room and a stick room. The arena is also adding a 25-seat press box.
The Coyotes will play a mixed roster exhibition game with the Roadrunners in Tucson on Oct. 9. Admission is free but the Coyotes are asking for $5 donations which will benefit the University of Arizona hockey club.
On the week that the NHL is poised to announce expansion to Las Vegas, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild noted that Tucson was the largest market in the United States without at least a triple-A team.
“This is a professional, first-class organization,” Rothschild said of the Coyotes. “It really boosts the image of Tucson.”
Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter