With NHL training camps opening over the next two weeks, the roster of the Roadrunners will be built on the ice when the prospective players arrive at the Tucson Arena on October 3rd. Preparation will then begin for an opening night game in San Diego. The team will not begin their home season until October 28th when they face off against Stockton. Once on the ice in Tucson, the Roadrunners will work under the direction of head coach Mark Lamb, someone Soetaert has the utmost confidence in.
The Roadrunners will compete in the AHL’s Western Conference and Pacific Division with teams from San Diego, Ontario, Bakersfield, San Jose, Stockton, San Antonio and Texas. However, perhaps the best part of the relocation to Tucson means the team will now be just a short drive down I-10 from their parent NHL team in Glendale, the Arizona Coyotes. “That is going to be a real benefit for the Coyotes having their players so close,” said Soetaert. “The American Hockey League is the next best league to the NHL so it’s a really good brand of hockey.”
Having their players close will be a major asset to the Coyotes, however equally as important the development of those players in Tucson and preparing them for the NHL is exactly the experience Soetaert brings. Having spent 12 years in the NHL himself, Soetaert knows what it takes to play at that level. Add to the fact he has worked at every level of management in amateur and professional hockey following his playing days and the Roadrunners have the leadership to compete at a high level immediately. “On paper we look good, but we have to play the games,” joked Soetaert. “I think we will have a very exciting team and down here you can play here one night and in the NHL the next so the talent level is very high.”
The Tucson market is something both the Coyotes management and Soetaert think is ready for professional hockey. “From everything I have seen when I have been out in the community wearing my Roadrunners logo shirt, and from the support our business people have gotten so far, I think the community will support us really well.” said Soetaert. With the franchise just five months old, Soetaert knows they have to have more time to measure the results, but knows putting an exciting, winning and entertaining product on the ice will go a long way in filling the seats.
While the success of the Roadrunners has yet to be determined, the leadership from the top of the organization is experienced and ready, the community leadership all on board, and all that is left is to drop the puck and that happens officially in October.
Soetaert approaches each day with a one day at a time mentality, and with less than a month to go before the season gets underway, he finally has an office to call his own and a roster of players that he feels will be ready to compete in the AHL’s Western Conference on day one. “I can’t say enough about how this whole project is coming together, said Soetaert. “The contractors, architects and everyone with the city has done a great job in getting this all done.” With the Roadrunners office complex, just a few hundred yards from the arena completed, all the attention shifts to the arena itself. A new press box, locker rooms and weight room are just part of the renovations the city of Tucson has done for their new tenants. “They (the city) will be handing over the keys to us on October 1st so I expect they will have everything ready to go and we will have our first training camp starting October 3rd,” added Soetaert.
When the Arizona Coyotes moved their American Hockey League to Tucson some five months ago they knew they would be under time constraints to be ready to play in the 2016-17 season. If the dream was to be a reality, the Coyotes knew they would need an experienced leader, and the perfect fit was Doug Soetaert. After all, perhaps nobody has more experience and the proven results than Soetaert does; who has all tools necessary to construct a minor league hockey program.
As the beginning of the 2016-17 campaign draws ever closer, the calm demeanor of the former NHL goaltender is evident in his confidence that everything will be ready when the Tucson Roadrunners drop the puck for real in the renovated Tucson Convention Center on October 28th. Soetaert has been at the helm of a variety of building and rebuilding projects before, in Kansas City, at the former International Hockey League; in Everett, Washington with the Silvertips of the Western Hockey League; and most recently with Red Bull teams in Salzburg, Austria and Munich, Germany.
While the remodeling of the building is nearing completion, Soetaert has also nearly completed his on ice building for the team’s inaugural season in the desert southwest. The American Hockey League, the level just below the National Hockey League, fills its rosters with those young players who are the last cuts from their NHL teams, players hoping to get their opportunities to crack an NHL lineup and veterans who may be “career” minor league players. “We are going to have a young exciting team,” said Soetaert. “What I did was basically look at the depth chart of the organization and placed the young players where we thought they would fit and then filled in around them.”