Phoenix Roadrunners

Robbie Ftorek in a Roadrunners uniform.


Hockey in the Desert. The World Hockey Association's Phoenix Roadrunners picked up where the Western Hockey league's Phoenix Roadrunners left off. In 1973 the WHA granted an expansion club to the city of Phoenix, Arizona. Along with Indianapolis, the team would be an expansion club for 1974-75. The team would play at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The expansion came just as the WHL was ceasing operations. Many players fron the 1973-74 WHL Roadrunners joined the WHA Roadrunners squad, along with a host of other WHA and NHL veterans. One of these was a center named Robbie Ftorek. Led bu coach Sandy Hucul, the club finished 4th in the tough Western Division for 1974-75. An impressive offense and stingy defense which gave up the third fewest goals in the league contributed to this. However, things fell apart in the playoffs, as the Quebec Nordiques beat Phoenix in five games.

There were some changes in order for 1975-76, as expansion Cincinnati retook several of its players, including forward Dennis Sobchuk. Ftorek led the club, which slipped down to 82 from 86 points the year before. However, that was good enough for second place in the Western Division and a playoff spot. The playoffs had to be restructured mid season, as the Western Division had shrunk to three teams with the folding of Minnesota and Denver. A matchup with San Diego loomed, and the Roadrunners lost in 5 games of a best of 5 series.

Now in their third season, and with new coach Al Rollins, the Roadrunners slumped to 28-48-4, which left them in 6th place and out of the playoffs. However, Robbie Ftorek recieved the league award as MVP for 1976-77. This was the first time a US born player was given the MVP award in a major hockey league, and only the second time a player from a last place team was awarded it. The first was Roadrunner coach Al Rollins, who played for the 1954 Chicago Blackhawks.

Financial problems were catching up to Phoenix, as the club was losing $2 million annually. Early in the season, many prospects were traded for cash, but this could not stem the tide of losses, which hurt attendance. Although the Roadrunners had a solid core of fans, not enough of the general public was going to games. Owner Karl Eller wanted to keep the team in Phoenix, and sought new buyers, but there were no takers. Finally, an announcement was made that the team would fold at season's end. The club played its last game on April 6, 1977, defeating Indianapolis in Phoenix. Many players soon found work with Cincinnati.

The Roadrunners were reborn several times, first in the Central Hockey League and then the Pacific Hockey League, before the current International Hockey League entry.

Roadrunners year-by-year

Year       W     L     T     pts.     Finish       Playoffs
1974-75   39    31     8     86       4th Western  Lost to Quebec 1-4
1975-76   39    35     4     82       2nd Western  Lost to San Diego 2-3
1976-77   28    48     4     60       6th Western  None

Information on this page is from The Complete Historical and Statistical Reference to the World Hockey Associaltion 1972-1979; by Scott Adam Surgent.