RoadRunners score late, defeat Jr. Blues in close contest

Richard Kelly

Stymied to find their offense, the Topeka RoadRunners made the most of a late opportunity Saturday.

Following a checking from behind double minor and game ejection to Springfield forward Tom Cooney at 12:23 of the third period, Topeka (10-2-2) used the powerplay to advantage. Forward Drew Karofiles scored on a slapshot from the center slot at 16:03 and Topeka played strong defense late to preserve a 1-0 victory at Landon Arena.

Karofiles, the team captain, had been dealing with a recent scoring drought prior to Saturday’s goal. Receiving an excellent pass from forward Tyler Poulsen to set up his shot, Karofiles said he just let it go and hoped for the best.

“I know he [Poulsen] made a good play,” said Karofiles. “I finally let one go, and good things happened.”

After not scoring a goal in Friday’s contest and being shut out for most of Saturday’s contest, frustration began to mount. Topeka lost 2-0 in Friday’s game, firing only seven shots on goal in the first two periods. They mustered 22 shots in the third period, but the damage had already been done at that point. Goaltender Matt Leon held strong for Springfield, earning his first shutout of the season.

RoadRunners head coach Scott Langer said Karofiles’ effort on Saturday was needed to give his team an edge. He is currently tied for third on the team with five goals.

“He’s just one of those guys that come up with big things when we need it,” said Langer. “He just doesn’t give up. It’s easy in those games where things aren’t going well, to get frustrated and give up, and he just doesn’t do that.”

In the first period, Topeka had multiple opportunities to take the lead, firing 15 shots on goal. They then sent nine more shots on goal in the second period. Langer said it was important his team didn’t get frustrated by their offensive struggles.

“We tried to change a few of our sets because they were on to what we were doing,” said Langer. “We were close. You don’t want to ever press, because once you do that, you may end up turning the whole game in terms of momentum.”

In the victory, Topeka goaltender Spencer Viele stopped all 22 shots he faced, giving him his first shutout of the season. Viele’s 1.49 goals against average is currently second in the North American Hockey League. Fellow Topeka goaltender Mackenzie Sawyer is third in the league with a 1.63 GAA.

“His [Viele] focus level was great,” said Langer. “There’s a reason why those two [Viele and Sawyer] are up at the top of the league.”

Topeka will now hit the road for the next four games. They head to Odessa, Texas Friday and Saturday to face the Odessa Jackalopes. Puck drop on both nights is at 7:05 p.m.