By Jason P. Skoda
The Arizona Republic
PHOENIX – RoadRunners coach Ron Filion sat at his desk in US Airways Center last season, knowing most of the phone messages he left would not be returned.
Non-affiliated expansion teams are about as appealing as a $3.99 truck stop T-bone special.
It is why last season’s roster was filled with rookies, injury comeback stories and desperate, last-resort free agents, which, along with a string of injuries, led to a 20-47-5 season in the club’s first year of ECHL action.
“I knew four of the five calls I made would go unanswered,” Filion said. “No one knew what Phoenix was about. They knew we weren’t affiliated, and that was enough for them to take chances elsewhere.”
There was something else about those phone calls. They wore on Filion. So did finding apartments for players, making sure their passports were in order and making roster decisions.
It has resulted in a couple changes for Year 2. The rebirth of the RoadRunners continues tonight with the season opener against the Utah Grizzlies at US Airways Center at 7:11.
The RoadRunners are affiliated with two organizations, as the Coyotes and the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL have allotted players to the roster. Also, Chief Operating Officer Ray Delia added general manager to his duties to take some stress off Filion.
“There were times last year where I couldn’t give as much attention to the on-ice matters because of my GM responsibilities,” Filion said. “Adding Ray as the GM has made a huge difference, and I can really concentrate on the coaching aspect and make sure everything is going the way it needs to be.”
The proof is in the padding; Filion is very comfortable with his goalie situation.
Cody Rudkowsky, 28, got a glimpse of the NHL life with St. Louis in 2002 with a win in his only appearance. The eight-year veteran has a career record of 123-94-34 with a 2.62 goals-against average and .912 save percentage.
Also on the roster on loan from the Coyotes is Josh Tordjman, 21, who signed with Phoenix out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“We have a great situation if we can keep them both of them here for the whole year,” Filion said. “That’s why we are here; that’s part of being affiliated, but we should be very strong in the net.”
The rest of the roster is a mix and match of familiar faces, players on loan, veteran All-Stars and potential.
“You always have options to go to other places, but I wanted to come back here,” Ballantyne said. “The facilities are first rate, and I really like the area, and now the roster has really been upgraded. Everything was new last year to everyone. There’s a different feel.”
One of the key additions to the offense is right wing Justin Aikins, who was an ECHL All-Star last year as a rookie on his way to 59 points, including 20 goals, in 67 games. Another player Filion is intrigued by is Yannick Tifu, 22, who piled up 72 points in 76 games for Rockford of the UHL.
“It makes a big difference when you offer a kid $500 a week or you offer $500 and a chance to go to AHL camp,” Filion said. “Our roster is much stronger than at any point last year.”