‘Runners to return youth

Richard Kelly / Washburn Review

Although outside temperatures remain warm in northeast Kansas, it’s beginning to feel a lot like hockey season for the Topeka RoadRunners.

The RoadRunners will officially open their preseason play this weekend when they face off against the University of Central Oklahoma Bronchos on Saturday and Sunday at the Kansas Expocentre. The Bronchos are a member of the American Collegiate Hockey Association. It is will be the team’s first chance to match their skills against opponents outside of the RoadRunner organization.

Following this weekend’s games, they will take to the road to face their North American Hockey League rivals, the Amarillo Bulls, on Sept. 7 and 8. Both teams are expected to pose early tests to the RoadRunners, who have traditionally breezed through their preseason foes.

“We knew that this preseason had to be built toward road warriors and playing decent competition,” said Scott Langer, Topeka head coach.

Much of the reason for the road test is because of Topeka’s early regular season schedule. Through Nov. 11, Topeka will have played 18 of their first 20 games away from the Kansas Expocentre. Their only home games in that time are on Oct. 7 and 8 versus the Wichita Falls Wildcats.

Having a young team, Langer knows this could cause hardship.

“We’re going to have to put it together real quick,” said Langer. “The guys that have played in this environment before, they have to show them the way. We can’t come back from that couple months on the road and be struggling.”

Familiar faces on the 2011-12 roster include forwards Ryan White, Kyle Sharkey, Andrew O’Leary, Zach Schrotenboer, Jake Lynes and Daniel Dupell. Defensemen Chris Bond and Joe Van Antwerp as well as goaltender Eric Rohrkemper also return.

“I think we have a decent mix [of veterans and newcomers,]” said Langer. “We got hit by graduation and players moving on. Again, I guess it’s a typical season because we really had to reload again. We got a lot of new faces here.”

With those new faces and the road tests, Langer is looking for strong work ethic to begin the season.

“There are a lot of talented young men out there, now it’s going to come down to chemistry,” said Langer. “If these guys buy into our identity and culture, if they play for the team and not themselves, then that’s a big thing.

“We got a lot of good players from a lot of good leagues and teams that decided to up and leave and come be a part of Topeka. I think that says a lot about Topeka and this organization.”