Topeka looks to respond in game three

Richard Kelly

Every team has its lapses and letdowns, but the Topeka RoadRunners had a lapse equivalent to a swift kick in the jaw last Saturday night.

Surrendering four goals in three minutes late in the game, Topeka fell to the Amarillo Bulls 4-3 to even the North American Hockey League South Division Finals at one. The series now shifts to Amarillo where game three will take place Thursday at 7:05 p.m.

Topeka head coach Scott Langer knows the late-game letdown has changed the dynamics of the five-game series, as it now essentially becomes a best-of-three- series.

“We gave that team life,” said Langer. “We have to expect them to come out in their environment and be very energetic and physical. We’re going to have to play smart road-hockey.”

The late game heroics on Saturday took place between the 10:36 and 13:28 marks of the third period, with the final two goals coming on the powerplay. The Bulls outshot the RoadRunners 12-6 in the final period.

“I don’t know how to explain those goals,” said Langer. “We definitely had some mental breakdowns. We know now that we’re only as good as every game we play.”

The loss affected the players immediately and it has carried over to this week’s practice, according to Langer.

“They’re a focused group,” said Langer. “They were hurt by that loss. They know that they let themselves down.”

The only way for his team to look at the games now is as a motivator, according to Langer. But he also knows it has the same effect for the Bulls.

“It can go both ways,” said Langer. “It certainly can motivate them [Amarillo] heading home knowing it’s a brand new series. But we have to use it as motivation. It’s the only way to go at this point. We can’t have that game back.”

Over the weekend, Topeka goaltender Rasmus Tirronen made 43 saves on 49 shots while Amarillo goaltender Nikifor Szczerba stopped 59 out of 65 shots.