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Roadrunners stay sharp at home with 5-2 victory over Stockton

By: Alexander Kinkopf
Three unanswered third period goals drove the Roadrunners to their second-straight victory Friday night at Tucson Arena, a 5-2 win over the Stockton Heat.
The team improved its home record to 10-3-0-0 in the process; a mark that calculates in as a .769 win percentage that ranks second best in the Western Conference and third best in the AHL.
After heading into the Christmas break with a much-needed victory last Saturday in San Jose, the Roadrunners kept momentum in their favor with a steadfast approach, mentality.
“You have to come back with the same consistency that you left with,” head coach Jay Varady said. “We had pretty good focus going into the break, we had a couple of good games there in San Jose, we got back and had a practice and it was just back to business. We didn’t change really anything we did, we addressed it, we talked about it, and we got to work.”
Following a scoreless first period, Jens Looke, in his return to the lineup after missing five games due to an injury, buried the evening’s first goal just over four minutes into the second when his backhand spin-o-rama ricochet off of a Stockton defender and into the back of the net.
Looke’s tally, his sixth of the year, matched his total from the 2017-18 campaign, which he attained in 59 games. Friday was just his 22nd game on the year.
“I’m getting stronger and I’m getting faster, but the biggest part I think is the fact that I’m getting used to everything over here,” he said. “Last year was my first year here in the U.S. and I’m feeling more comfortable here this year, and I think that’s playing a big role for my game right now.”
Stockton responded with two goals in a 1:07 span to take a 2-1 lead.
With just over a minute to play in the second period, Nick Merkley’s shot through traffic from the top of the left circle deflected off of a Heat defender and into the net to tie the game 2-2.
Merkley’s extended his point streak to three games with his goal, his second of the year.
The teams remained tied until just past the midway point of the third period when Laurent Dauphin stripped a Stockton defender to walk in alone and beat Jon Gillies through the five-hole with a move to his backhand.
Dauphin’s goal, giving the Roadrunners a 3-2 lead with 9:47 to play, was the first of the shorthanded variety for the Roadrunners this season.
Tyler Steenbergen upped the Roadrunners’ lead to 4-2 just over two minutes later when he beat Gillies high to the glove side with a shot through a screen.
In the final moments of regulation, while operating on a five-on-three power play, Robbie Russio stepped into an Adam Helewka pass to give the Roadrunners a 5-2 lead, scoring his first goal of the season when his shot seeped through Gillies’ pads and trickled over the goal-line.
Merkley, credited with the secondary assist on Russo’s goal, registered his first multi-point performance of the campaign.
Hunter Miska stopped 32 of the 34 shots he faced to earn his eighth win of the season, improving his overall record to 8-4-4.
“I thought we had chances early in the game where we missed the net, we just had a little more focus as the game went on of hitting the net and getting pucks to that blue paint,” Varady added. “I think we just stuck with it, we stayed with the plan, we didn’t get away from what the plan was and eventually it paid off.”
With the win, the Roadrunners’ record improves to 17-8-3-1.
The teams will meet again on Saturday night at Tucson Arena, where the puck is scheduled to drop just after 7:05 PM.
*Photos courtesy: Kate Dibildox & Chris Hook