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Roadrunners are back on track

by Brian Compton

Phoenix Roadrunners head coach Brad Church led his team to a three-game
winning streak to open up the season.  

Four games into the 2007-08 season, Phoenix Roadrunners coach Brad Church is feeling a lot better about the moves he made during the off-season to put his team on the map.

Not that he wasn’t confident prior to the Roadrunners’ 3-1 start, but, as the coach says, sometimes you need to see the product on the ice before you can truly make an evaluation.

“I thought the guys worked hard in camp,” Church said. “The guys seemed to pick things up pretty quickly. But you never really know what you’re going to get until you see it.”

What Church witnessed last weekend was his Roadrunners reel off three-straight victories to start the season as Phoenix notched a weekend sweep of the Utah Grizzlies at the U.S. Airways Center, where the Roadrunners will play their first 12 games this season. While Phoenix suffered its first loss of the season Wednesday night – a 4-0 defeat at the hands of the Stockton Thunder – there are still plenty of reasons for the Roadrunners to smile, especially after going 27-40-5 last season.

Then, the Roadrunners were never able to put things together, and head coach Ron Filion resigned and was replaced by Church in late March. Phoenix did make the Kelly Cup Playoffs, but was ousted quickly by Las Vegas.

“It’s a lot more fun (this season),” said defenseman Dave Pszenyczny, who went 5-16-21 in 41 games for the Roadrunners in 2006-07. “We just had too many transactions last year. Brad Church stepped in late in the year and we worked hard in the playoffs. But we have a good team this time around.”

Much of the hot start can be attributed to Church’s diligence in the off-season, when he acquired the likes of defenseman Reagan Rome and forwards Daniel Sisca and Justin Maiser. Sisca, who had 79 points in 71 games for the Florida Everblades in 2005-06 (he played in Italy last season), was named the In Glas Co ECHL Player of the Week from Oct. 18-21. Sisca had four goals, two assists and a plus-4 rating in the Roadrunners’ three wins over the Grizzlies.

“I’m really excited,” Pszenyczny said. “I had the chance to play with guys like Dan Sisca in the past, so we’ve had a chance to bond a little bit. Coach did a great job this summer of bringing in the right people. We’re all working together and I think it’s only going to get better as the season goes on. It’s important to get off to a hot start, especially in this conference.”

Church said he’s noticed a difference in attitude right from the beginning of training camp. This has truly become his team, between the guys he brought back from last season combined with the acquisitions he made over the summer. So far, the Roadrunners have played as if they will contend in the National Conference.

“There’s a clean slate,” Church said. “Guys have been really working hard. It was a long off-season for these guys. Just to get back into some games that mean something … these guys care about winning. They have a lot of pride, and they wanted to make sure they gave a good effort this weekend.”

While the Roadrunners suffered a setback on Wednesday night, they still have another eight games to play on home ice before they compete in their first road game of the season, which takes place on Nov. 20 at Las Vegas. Sometimes, playing on the road gives a team the opportunity to bond and get to know each other a little bit better. But Church believes that won’t be necessary. As long as Phoenix takes care of business at home, everything should come along quite nicely.

“It’s nice to be at home,” Church said. “We have an opportunity to get off to a good start, and we need to make sure we take advantage of it. We’ve been really putting a lot of emphasis on this first segment of our schedule. We know somewhere along the line, it’s going to get very tough for us. We need to make sure we finish off this homestand strong.”

Indeed, the schedule will be tough, as Stockton proved to the Roadrunners Wednesday night. Phoenix hosts the Bakersfield Condors tonight.

The Phoenix Roadrunners have twelve
straight home games to open the season.

“Every game is a battle,” Church said. “It was a tougher weekend than the scores showed. Utah played hard. There were times in each game where they really came at us. Our goalies made some big saves. There’s a lot of good teams over here. We’ve got to be very consistent with our work ethic and make sure we’re ready to go all the time.”

Rookie goaltender Nathan Lawson -- who arrived from the University of Alaska-Anchorage -- could get his second start of the season tonight, after posting a shutout in a 6-0 win over Utah in his professional debut on Oct. 20. Between Lawson and veteran Cody Rudkowsky, Church boasts the 1-2 punch in net that is so vital in a league where teams regularly play three games in a weekend.

“I knew what I was going to get in Cody,” Church said. “He’s always been a competitor. I was very encouraged to see Nathan have the night he did on Saturday. He’s been working hard in camp. He was a little bit nervous coming out of school, but he stepped in on Saturday night and came up with some big saves for us in the middle of the game when the score was still pretty tight.”

But unlike last season, the Roadrunners triumphed in those tight games. Wednesday night, however, proved that nothing will be easy in a conference that features several quality teams.

“Obviously, you like to get results right off the bat,” Church said. “But again, it’s important that we stay grounded. We have to approach these games with the same importance and be ready to go.”

Around the ECHL -- The Mississippi Sea Wolves, who were outscored 10-2 in back-to-back losses to the Florida Everblades last weekend, play their first home game in over two years tomorrow night against the Reading Royals. Brad Arnold, the lead singer of the rock group Three Doors Down, will perform the National Anthem. Arnold is a native of southern Mississippi. … Stockton acquired forward Paul Caponigri from the Texas Wildcatters for future considerations. The Thunder also received right wing Ryan MacMurchy from the 2-0 Elmira Jackals for the same price. … John Curry of the Las Vegas Wranglers was named the Rbk Hockey ECHL Goaltender of the Week, allowing just four goals in three victories.


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