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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.