By Len Bardsley
The Times of Trenton
Cody Rudkowsky knows all about the transient nature of goalies in the ECHL.
Every goalie has his tales of getting called up, sent down and shipped around the country.
Maybe that is why Rudkowsky is so happy to find a true home in Reading.
Rudkowsky has played over 80 games with the Royals heading into their meeting with the Titans today, making him one of the longest tenured goalies with one team in the ECHL.
He was rewarded for having one of his best seasons of his career at 12-2-1 and was named as the starter for the American Conference for the ECHL All-Star Game on Jan. 25 in Fresno, Calif.
Rudkowsky also got rewarded with his first American Hockey League call-up this season when the Bridgeport Sound Tigers dialed his number on Thursday. In his first start for Bridgeport, he had 35 saves and stopped all four shooters in the shootout of a 4-3 shootout win against Hershey on Friday.
Rudkowsky is confident he will be able to handle the transition between the ECHL and AHL and back again.
That was not always the case for the 27-year-old native of Willingdon, Alberta.
One of Rudkowsky’s most memorable odysseys occurred while he was with the Titans during the 2002-03 season.
He was called up for what he thought was going to be a weekend with the AHL’s Worcester Ice Cats, but instead was shuttled back and forth between Worcester and the St. Louis Blues for nearly three weeks before getting in a game with the Blues against his hometown Edmonton Oilers.
Rudkowsky had a decent season with the Titans after his stint with the Blues, putting together a 17-9-5 record, but had trouble finding consistency due in part to the shuffling between the ECHL and AHL.
Everything seemed to come together for Rudkowsky when he went from the Titans to the Royals at the start of the 2003-04 season.
He played only a single game for the Ice Cats during the 2003-04 season, but appeared in 46 for the Royals, helping guide Reading to its first playoff berth.
In 14 playoff games, he put together a 2.02 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage.
“That season was the turning point for Reading,” said Rudkowsky. “Right from the start the fans really supported the team, but that gave them a taste of victory. That really got them behind us.”
Ironically, Rudkowsky got one of his call-ups in the middle of the Northern Conference Finals, with the Royals down 2-0 to the Florida Everblades.
“At the time I wanted to stay in Reading and play in Reading,” said Rudkowsky. “I had only played one game in Worcester at that point. I was sort of disappointed to be leaving Reading.”
It was disappointment while in Reading last season that gave Rudkowsky the perfect motivation for this season.
He put up decent numbers last season, but could not seem to come up with victories, putting together a mark of 8-11-1. When Rudkowsky could not find his form, Barry Brust took over the top spot.
“Last year, the end of the season left a bad taste in my mouth,” said Rudkowsky. “I came ready to play (this season) and felt I had something to prove, that more than anything helped with my success.”
Reading coach Karl Taylor feels Rudkowsky came into the season with the right approach, knowing either Yutaka Fukufuji or Brust would be pushing him for playing time.
“In the fall I was speaking to him and told him we would have one (AHL) contract goalie here and he would play regardless of his (Rudkowsky’s) performance,” said Taylor. “He (Rudkowsky) just said make sure you give me a chance to fight back and respond. He came in with a great frame of mind. It is obvious what Cody has done for us.”
Taylor knows Rudkowsky has earned a chance in the AHL, but the positive environment with the Royals should allow him to continue to excel when he returns.
“I think everyone on our team wants to move up,” said Taylor. “If they didn’t I would not have them here. Cody is no different, but he does have a comfort level in Reading. He knows what I expect and he knows I will treat him fair. Maybe he was off a little last year, but now he is back and one of the elite goalies in the league.”