Series tied 1-1 for ‘Runners

Richard Kelly

While the shot margins may have been great both nights of Topeka RoadRunners hockey this past weekend, one thing set the games apart: scoring goals.

After 43 shots in Friday night’s affair, only one of which found the back of the net in a 4-1 loss, the Topeka RoadRunners came back and scored seven goals on 60 shots to earn a 7-2 victory Saturday night at Landon Arena in the opening playoff games in a best-of-five series between the RoadRunners and the Springfield Jr. Blues.

Jared Rickord got it started for the Jr. Blues during Friday’s contest, when he scored during a scrum in front of the net to give Springfield a 1-0 lead through the first period. But during the second period, the game was knotted up at one when Edgars Lipsbergs knocked a rebound past Jr. Blues’ Andrew Martin. Springfield answered with a goal when Ross Anderson buried the puck on a 2-on-1 to give the Jr. Blues back the lead. They got another 2-on-1 that resulted in a 3-1 lead six minutes into the third period and one more goal at the 10:51 mark on a powerplay goal gave Springfield a 4-1 lead and a victory in Friday’s contest. Evan Karembelas got the loss with 11 saves on 15 shots.

After the loss, Topeka head coach Scott Langer knew one of the big keys was how his team used its opportunities.

“We didn’t have a bad effort. It seemed like we made a couple of mistakes and they buried their chances on it,” said Langer. “They just sat there in their defensive zone and allowed their goalie to stop shots. We had some big chances, but he (Martin) did a great job.”

But Langer had some ideas as to how Friday’s match could affect his team.

“If we’re meant to go the distance, it’s going to make us better,” said Langer. “It’s going to refocus us and we’re going to go out and do what we’re capable of.”

Topeka came out and did what they were capable of Saturday.

Topeka looked like the hot team from the start. After numerous shots in just the first few minutes, a Jeff Burke shot from the point just 2:38 into the contest gave the ‘Runners a 1-0 lead. Springfield though did counter just 25 seconds later to tie the game on a one-timer. It was Springfield’s first shot-on-goal, as the shots were 8-1. Just over four minutes later, Michael Hill fired a wrist shot on net that beat Martin to give the ‘Runners back the lead. Justin Kovacs pushed a rebound past Martin at the 12:20 mark to give Topeka a 4-1 lead. It stayed that way until first intermission. Topeka outshot Springfield 27-6 in the first frame.

At 3:56 of the second period, the scoring continued as Lipsbergs made it past defenders and beat Martin to make it 5-1. Just 24 seconds later, Kevin Ryan’s shot from the point increased it to a 5-1 lead. Springfield used a breakaway a minute later to make it 5-2, but on a 3-on-2 play, Bryce Johnson fired the puck to make it a 6-2 game into the second intermission. Shots after two periods were 40-13 in favor of the RoadRunners.

While the shots were 20-5 in the third period, Martin stonewalled Topeka until the 19:20 mark on the third when Cole Schneider ripped a shot blocker side to make the final 7-2. Eric Rohrkemper stopped 16 of 18 shots for Topeka.

Langer noticed a definite interest in his team’s play in Saturday’s contest.

“Our guys were inspired. They were very interested tonight, starting this morning with the pre-game skate. It was not an option today. We were a focused group,” said Langer. “We talked about it last night that I don’t think our guys were as focused as they needed to be the last few days, until this morning.”

Now the series shifts, as Topeka will play two games in Springfield, Ill., this weekend, with a chance to wrap up the five-game series. If necessary, a fifth game will be played April 12 in Topeka. Forward Bryce Johnson talked about what the team can do to pick up the wins in the two games.

“It would’ve been bad going down 2-0 in the series. It’s good tying it up at one,” said Johnson. “Now we’ll head to Springfield and hope we get two there and move on to the second round. But we got to take every game at a time and we can’t look back.”

In the other South Division playoff match-up, the St. Louis Bandits, who were the No. 2 seed, trail the No. 3 seed Texas Tornado 2-0 with a chance for Texas to wrap up the series at home tomorrow night.