By Don Stewart
READING, Pa. – After he was sent down from the American Hockey League’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers earlier this month, Cody Rudkowsky thought back to last year a little bit.
He played 14 AHL games for the Providence Bruins last year before being sent back to the Royals. His confidence already scarred by that rough stretch with the Bruins, a couple of shaky starts in Reading sent Rudkowsky into a mental tailspin.
He ended the season on the bench watching Barry Brust start in goal.
Some Royals fans thought history was repeating itself when Rudkowsky got off to another shaky start after returning to Reading Feb. 6. He went 0-1-2 in his first three starts, with his most notable struggles coming in the shootout against Johnstown and Toledo.
But the 27-year-old Alberta native returned to form last week. With Yutaka Fukufuji banged up, he started the last four straight games and went 3-1-0 with a 1.71 goals-against average, a .945 save percentage and a shutout.
Rudkowsky said he’s not questioning himself this year. He actually had better stats in Bridgeport than he had in Reading, and was only sent down because some contracted goalies got healthy.
“I was sent down last year because I wasn’t playing all that well,” he said. “So when I came back, it just kind of snowballed on me. Whereas this year, my little stint that I had up there, I played well.
“I had a couple rough starts when I first got back, but that’s gonna happen no matter where you are. I didn’t feel bad in those starts; the pucks just found the net. I hope I’ve got the groove back. It seems that I have.”
Rudkowsky made 38 saves Saturday night at Dayton to post his second shutout of the season. Sunday, he stopped 23-of-24 shots in a 5-1 win against Trenton.
With Fukufuji sidelined, Rudkowsky is expected to get the start in Tuesday’s 7:05 p.m. rematch with Trenton at the Sovereign Center. That’s fine with him.
“In the past, I’ve performed better when I get lots of starts and when I’m allowed to get into a rhythm and play a lot,” Rudkowsky said. “It seems like if I can seem to find a rhythm, once I get it going it’s a lot easier to keep it going when you’re playing a lot.
“I find I play better when I play more.”
Rudkowsky was quick to credit his teammates Sunday for limiting opponent’s scoring chances and allowing him to see the puck on shots. The Royals have gotten most of their defensemen back from injuries and AHL call-ups in the past two weeks.
Rudkowsky’s 2.39 goals-against average ranks fifth in the ECHL.
“I think Cody’s playing really well,” Royals coach Karl Taylor said. “He’s had to play those games back to back. I think he showed a lot of what he’s all about here. He’s making a stand to be No. 1. When Yutaka gets healthy, he’s gonna have a battle in front of him.”