Phoenix Roadrunners vs. Cincinnati Stingers
January 30, 1979
Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Pacific Hockey League Programs
This attractive program comes from an unusual in-season exhibition contest between the Cincinnati Stingers of the World Hockey Association and an independent minor league club, the Phoenix Roadrunners of the crumbling Pacific Hockey League.
The Pacific League started its second season in the fall of 1978 with six franchises. But the Los Angeles Blades and the San Francisco Shamrocks both closed their doors in January of 1979, leaving the circuit with just four teams. The hastily re-worked schedule didn’t offer much variety to the league’s remaining fans. The Roadrunners played the Tucson Rustlers over twenty times.
Roadrunners owner Mike Skerlak came up with inspired idea to inject some novelty into these proceedings: bring Major League hockey back to Phoenix, if only for a couple of nights. Starting with this two-game series against the Stingers on January 30th and February 3rd, 1979, he paid appearance fees to WHA clubs to travel to Arizona for exhibition games. The Roadrunners themselves had been part of the World Hockey Association from 1974 until 1977 before financial problems forced the team out of business. (Skerlak would re-organize his “new” Roadrunners within a few months to play minor league hockey).
The Winnipeg Jets said “no”, but the Cincinnati Stingers agreed to come in for two games and that offered a compelling story line: the return to Phoenix of Robbie Ftorek. Ftorek, pictured on the cover of the evening’s game program (above right), was the greatest star for the WHA-era Roadrunners. During the club’s final WHA season in the winter of 1976-77, Ftorek won the Gordie Howe Trophy as the league’s Most Valuable Player. The Massachusetts native was the first American-born player to win MVP honors in a Major pro hockey league.
Ftorek was the WHA’s leading scorer midway through the 1978-79 season when the Stingers arrived in Phoenix at the end of January. (He would ultimately finish 2nd in scoring for year to Quebec’s Real Cloutier). But the Roadrunners held Ftorek in check, limiting him to just one assist on the evening. Roadrunners goaltender Jim Park was superb, stopping 42 of 45 shots. Michel Dion of the Stingers was not, allowing two first period scores to the minor league on just six shots. Phoenix held on for a 5-3 upset of the WHA squad.
The two teams met again four days later for a Saturday afternoon matinee on February 3, 1979, but I can’t find any record of that result.