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Old Phoenix Roadrunners History Print E-mail

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Phoenix Roadrunners Hockey

By Jonathan Kozac

It was early spring 1989, I was at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Arizona watching the Phoenix Suns play. A beautiful woman walked up with her boyfriend and sat down in front of me. One thing led to another and we started talking, She was from New Jersey and I was from Philly and we were both Hockey fans. We talked the whole first half, and I guess it pissed her boyfriend off, cause at the half they left and never came back.

Behind me an older gentleman evidently overheard the whole conversation and said to me. "So you like hockey?" "Best game in the world" I said. He told me Phoenix was going o have a hockey team in the fall called "The Phoenix Roadrunners," and that down stairs outside the building was a trailer where you could buy tickets.

I jumped out of my chair and ran down to the trailer where I met Mike Briody (Rocky Roadrunner) and Adam Keller (The GM). Handed them my credit card and told them I wanted two front row tickets in the opposing teams zone, on the corner above the red line. They gave me Section 207 Row 4 Seats 6 & 7, glass seats!

Hockey was so new to the valley that some of the officials didn't even know the rules that first year. One day an opposing goaltender made a save on a dump in, he dropped the puck and then shot it over the high glass into the stands. The officials ruled a face off in the zone. As they approached the face off dot in front of my seats, I jumped up onto the high glass, pulled my head up over the top and said to the ref below me. "Isn't it delay of game when the goalie shoots the puck over the glass like that?" He looked at me and smiled, skated to the penalty box and magically two minutes for delay of game appeared on the board.

In those first few years we had silly string and candy that we passed to each other, I brought blank signs and wrote words of wisdom like "The ref must be pregnant, he already missed two periods", we were allowed access to the players before and after the game, sometimes even between periods. A kinship was established between players and fans that still exists today. Players like Kevin McDonald, Sean Whyte, Goose Gosslin, David Goverde and many more. Over those first few years many fans sat in many seats trying to figure out where they wanted to buy their season seats. By 1992 section 207 was full, Everybody wanted to sit in the loud section with the crazy long haired guy that climbed on the glass, brought candy, wrote signs and on top of all that, really knew the game.

In the back row of section 207 Anne and Ken bought their season tickets, over time Ken would coin the name "The 207 Psycho's", and he would become Father Psycho, I guess I was just the original 207 psycho. But we were a family, for 13 years, through the good bad and ugly.

A bunch of good ole boys started coming to the games and they sat in the section next to us. They became "The 208 Guzzlers", led by a kid some people called Paul and others called Al, he took the concept of the 207 psychos to a new level. It all started when one day he stood up and got the attention of his section and told them to shout the words "taste great", our section followed with "less filling". From there it led to "bud" "weis" "er" using three sections until it landed with the entire audience screaming "He Shoots, He Scores, Hey Goalie, You Suck!" every time the Runners Scored. I copy wrote the phrase and trademark. A few years later made T shirts that depicted the scene.

The Psychos and the Guzzlers developed a deep friendship, one game "Al" stood up after one of the Runners scored a hat trick and threw his hat onto the ice. A moment later three police officers walked down Al's row and told him to come with them because he threw the hat on the ice. He refused and they started to make a scene. I jumped up and ran around behind the officers and blocked their way out, they told me to move that I was obstructing justice. I told them I wasn't moving and that they were the only ones obstructing justice. As this was about to escalate, Mike Briody, (ex Rocky Roadrunner) now Roadrunner game day staff appeared at the top of section 208 and pointed our direction. The officers said, pointing to Mike. "he wants you out of here now." I looked the cop in the eye and said," no, he wants to talk to you three and explain to you what a hat trick is, why it is called a hat trick and why it is expected that fans will throw their hats onto the ice after a hat trick is scored." They walked away with their heads down and the entire stadium erupted as Al and I high fived each other! Hockey had won again.
Over the next few years even the police joined our little kinship as well as the Coliseum staff. Never was this more evident than a day with just a few minutes left in the second period, I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up to see Officer Fred Zumbo, I met Fred at the Coliseum but since then had officiated some of his own adult hockey teams games as well as played goal for his team when his goalie couldn't make it. On this night he just asked if he could talk to me for a moment, it turned out, he was thinking of becoming a goaltender and asked if I would help him out. Unfortunately all the fans saw was a police officer tap me on the shoulder and motioned for me to go with him. Just to the left of my seats is the walkway to the bathrooms and exits, Fred and I walked to an open area where he was joined by about 15 other police officers, we talked for about 20 seconds when all of the sudden we were surrounded by 300 fans led by Al screaming "leave Kozy alone he hasn't done anything" you could cut the tension with a knife, the officers weren't sure what to do, I looked right at Fred and , "I got this" I looked at Al and the crowd and said, "hey everybody listen up, I really appreciate your support, however, the officers are not throwing me out we are just talking, everything is cool" everybody walked away and the officers all had a sigh of relief.

After the first few years as independents, the Runners became a minor league affiliation of the Kings (death in disguise). Other than getting to meet Gretz and watching him play as a Runner, this was devastating to the Runners chances of ever winning a championship, I remember during pre game of the Runners/Kings game Alex Zhitnik and Marty McSorley were skating towards me, I help up a sign it read "ZHITNIK PRONOUNCED SHIT NICK", Marty pointed it out to Alex laughing his ass off.

As the Roadrunners fan base grew, so did the teams level of play. With players like Yanic Perreault and Byron Dafoe we had a great chance to win the Turner Cup in 1995. Early that year the Roadrunner management decided not to make player cards for that year, denying we the fans of something wonderful. Another season front row season ticket holder was a camera buff and her and I got together. I told her I would do all the research, and leg work to create the cards if she would take and supply the pictures. She agreed and away we went, just one day before we went to print Adam Keller said we couldn't do it. This made no sense, we had companies that donated the money for the upfront cost, and all proceeds were going to go the Roadrunners themselves, but Adam still said no. I made three sets anyway. One for me autographed by each player, one set for the photographer, and one set to give each player his own card for that year. I wrote and designed all the cards. We had a young kid playing at the time this is what I wrote back in 95.

"This is Yanic's fourth professional season, holds roadrunner records for, most goals in one game (5) fastest three goals (6:16) and most goals in a season (not in yet) scored first goal for the west in 95' All-star game. If given the chance, will have a long NHL career" well we all know this came true!

That season the Roadrunners came 25 seconds away from going to game 7 of the conference finals against the Peoria Rivermen. Dominating the last few minutes and down by a goal the Runners pulled Gossilen and with 25 seconds to go Kris Kontos scored the game tying goal to send the game into overtime. Unfortunately, the Referee ruled that he had lost sight of the puck and had blown the whistle before the puck went in, with no replay we were 25 seconds away from misery. There was an orange cone next to me I picked up and threw it on the ice, what followed was a barrage of paper, cans, cups, hats, crutches, shoes and anything else 13,000 fans had on them at the time, we were robbed and we knew it!

As the final home game of the final season grew near and the thought of affordable hockey leaving us again, we were shocked when some of the Coliseum staff told some of us season ticket holders to "go ahead take your seats with you tonight" so we did!

I have a full set of player cards from every season as well as all my season ticket stubs including a unused ticket front row ticket for the first game of every season.

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