By Brian Compton
VOORHEES, N.J. – Stephen Wood (pictured) and Rosario Ruggeri took huge steps a season ago, when, as rookies, they helped the Titans win their first ECHL championship.
Now, they’re hoping to take that next step.
Both skated with the AHL champion Phantoms Monday and neither looked out of place. Wood, who went 4-13-17 in 42 regular-season games and made the National Conference All-Star team in 2004-05, has a legitimate shot to make the jump to Philadelphia.
Ruggeri, on the other hand, only turned 21 on June 8, and could return to Trenton. The Flyers’ fourth-round pick in 2002, however, isn’t planning on it.
“It was a great experience,” said Ruggeri, who went 2-12-14 in 49 games for Trenton a season ago. “It’s always great to win a championship at any level. My intention (now) is to develop in the AHL and take a step forward. Last year was a good experience, but I think I’m done with (the ECHL). I’m ready to move forward and go to the AHL.”
If it doesn’t happen, Phantoms head coach John Stevens is expecting whomever is demoted to accept it like a professional –the way Wood and Ruggeri did last season.
“You can either go down there and sulk, or you can make the best of it,” Stevens said. “You don’t win championships unless you’re committed. It says a lot about them from a character standpoint. They were able to go down there and do that.”
And it paid off. Wood and Ruggeri got to experience a championship as rookies — something Rick Kowalsky had to wait 12 professional seasons for.
“It was pretty amazing,” Wood said. “It’s something you might not be able to capture again, but it was great for everybody.”
As for making the Phantoms out of training camp, the 24-year-old from Providence College is simply taking it one day at a time. The difficulty, in the meantime, will be keeping his composure as he attempts to do everything just right to impress Stevens & Co.
“It’s kind of tough to read right now,” Wood said. “I just have to concentrate on working hard and making plays. That stuff will figure itself out. You can’t get caught up in it. You just play your game and then they make the decisions.”
“You don’t want to get sent down, but you make the best of it,” said Wood, who had 10 points in 20 playoff games for the Titans en route to the Kelly Cup. “This is an organization where there will be a lot of call-ups. You just have to keep your head up. I’m just going to continue to work hard, wherever I may be.”
Playing in Trenton certainly worked out for both Wood and Ruggeri last season. Whether it would again under new head coach Doug McKay remains to be seen, but Stevens fully expects to see both defensemen in Philadelphia at some point should they not make the roster out of training camp.
“I think that year down there was good for them,” Stevens said. “Now it’s time for them to try to make the step here. They’re certainly better players now than they were last year. They’ve closed the gap to play at our level. Whether they start here or not, I think they’re both going to play a significant amount of games for us this year.”
The Flyers’ organization has Mike Haviland to thank for that. Wood and Ruggeri will get to greet their former coach when the Phantoms host the Norfolk Admirals in an exhibition game on Saturday at the Flyers Skate Zone in Northeast Philadelphia. Kowalsky will be Haviland’s assistant coach in Norfolk this season.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Wood said, smiling ear to ear. “I’ve been calling Havie and Killer. I’m sure they’ll be some pleasantries exchanged. It’ll be fun, but it’s a job and you’ve got to take it serious, too.”