‘Runners return home, hope to steal victories from Bandits

Nate Milam carries the puck through the offensive zone during Topeka’s last home contest versus the Amarillo Bulls. Topeka will look to receive productivity from him, as Topeka works through injuries this weekend.

Richard Kelly

The Topeka RoadRunners may have swept the three games they played this past weekend, but this weekend’s games may present more of a challenge.

Winners of 10 straight contests, Topeka (42-9-3) now enters a weekend series with the St. Louis Bandits, who have lost two of their last three games but are the first place team in the North American Hockey League North Division. Both contests will begin at 7:05 in Landon Arena.

Topeka head coach Scott Langer knows a series against rival St. Louis (37-13-4) will be a challenge, especially with some of their recent roster moves. They hold a slight lead over the Traverse City North Stars.

The RoadRunners are also dealing with injuries sustained in last weekend’s series.

“(St. Louis) did a good job at the deadline, they picked up some players,” said Langer. “I think it’s a real even match with our clubs. I think the difference is our personnel (issue). They’re going to be going hard. They need those points to stay in the top spot in their division so we’re going to get their best game. We’re certainly going to have to be tight defensively with so much firepower out of the lineup.”

Although they were victorious and increased their lead in the south division to the point of locking up the division, Langer didn’t find that to be completely satisfying with the injurious circumstances. The three games also included numerous misconducts and physical altercations.

“After the first game, it didn’t feel very rewarding,” said Langer. “There wasn’t much hockey played besides what we were doing. It was quite abusive. We’ve lost some personnel for the last four games because of it, and they’ve had multiple suspensions.”

Currently, with four games left in the season, all at home, Topeka has an opportunity to lock up their regular season title if they earn one more point. The only team competing with the RoadRunners for that spot is the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, who have played 53 games and have 77 points compared to the ‘Runners who have played 54 games for 87 points.

The team has been dealing with off-ice issues, including harassment from other teams and their fans, including commentators and writers for other NAHL teams.

“We’ve been given quite a bit of motivation,” said Langer.  “Some of these tricks and things some of these guys are trying to do– sending in clips behind our backs and all this stuff — it’s only motivating us. Our guys have been doing a good job of staying resilient and just keeping that task in hand and winning hockey games.”

One continued development is the targeting of forward Michael Hill. Hill was suspended for a hit on Amarillo Bull forward Derek Hills earlier in the season and has seen retaliation following the incident. In Friday’s contest versus the Bulls, Hill was checked from behind, seeming to suffer an injury on the play.

“The league’s very well aware of it,” said Langer. “I’m not sure Scott Langer and the Topeka RoadRunners can necessarily protect him, I think there has to be some protection from the top.”

Friday night’s contest is Budweiser’s “It’s Still St. Patty’s Day” night featuring $1 beers. Saturday night is Guns ‘N Hoses night featuring the Topeka police and fire department.

Following this weekend’s series, Topeka will return home Wednesday and Thursday night for their final games of the regular season.