Topeka thinks big about RoadRunners

Richard Kelly

The first-place playoff seed in the North American Hockey League’s South Division is within sight for the Topeka Roadrunners.

After two games this past week in Wichita Falls, Texas, Topeka (42-9-5) now returns home for games tonight and tomorrow at 7:05 p.m. versus the Springfield Jr. Blues. If both games are victorious for the RoadRunners, they clinch the South Division’s first place seed for the NAHL playoffs.

This past weekend, the RoadRunners picked up 7-4 and 8-5 victories over the Wildcats of Wichita Falls. In both games, before even two minutes had passed, Topeka had already scored. In Saturday’s match, Michael Hill nearly scored off the opening faceoff, as Topeka took the lead only five seconds into the first period.

Leading 2-1 after the first period in Friday’s contest, the RoadRunners exploded for four second-period goals with just one for Wichita Falls as they led 6-2 after two periods. The Wildcats would claw back with two unanswered goals in the third period before Cole Schneider put away an empty netter to seal Friday’s contest. Schneider, along with Martin Sunstedt and Patrick Kirtland had two points on the night respectively. Topeka outshot Wichita Falls in Friday’s contest 56-26. Erik Rohrkemper earned the victory with 22 saves.

Saturday night, as said, gave Topeka an early 1-0 lead before Wichita Falls would answer just a minute later to tie the game. In a back and forth first period, Topeka led 4-2 when it ended.

The second period cut the Topeka lead to 5-4 when it ended which led to a 3-1 outscoring by Topeka in the third period to pick up the victory. Evan Karembelas made 24 saves on 29 shots in the win. The ‘Runners had two hat tricks with Hill and Schneider both scoring three goals in the contest. Hill had five points on the night overall. Erik Higby also had four points in the game, which gave him a total of 78 on the season, first in the NAHL.

With tonight and Thursday’s games, Topeka assistant coach R.J. Enga knows Topeka will have to be more defense-oriented after giving up nine goals on the trip.

“We’ll really need to tighten up defensively,” said Enga. “We’ve been working on that in practice this week. Our forecheck has caused a problem and that can really have an effect on our line-rush defense as a whole.”

Being aware of Jared Rickord and Nick Curry of Springfield has also been a key focus for the team this week. They have 65 and 49 points on the season respectively.

The St. Louis Bandits, who are currently two points behind the RoadRunners, play this Friday and Saturday, but if Topeka is victorious tonight and tomorrow, it will have sealed first place in the South Division.

But Enga won’t look that far ahead right now.

“We just want to take care of things game-by-game,” said Enga. “We want to be playing the kind of hockey that’s going to keep making us successful.”

For Thursday’s game, the RoadRunners have partnered with Think Big Topeka and WIBW for “Google” RoadRunners’ Think Big Topeka night.

Tiffany Logue, an account executive with the team, said the organizations contacted the RoadRunners to partner up and they couldn’t think of a better way to end for an already fantastic regular season.

“I think this just shows the amazing progress our team has had. This is one last big bang for the season. It’s amazing they wanted to sponsor with us and how prevalent we have become,” said Logue. “I think this just shows that we’re being recognized for our devotion to the community and that this owner (Don Stone) is serious.”

The RoadRunners will also offer $1 tickets to the game as well as free parking and $1 hotdogs. Special jerseys will also be worn that night and video will be shot during the game and intermission to be sent to Google. Tentative attendance is said to be near 7,100 at this point and tickets can be purchased at the Kansas Expocentre box office.

Logue thinks there could be a sellout by Thursday and the team is preparing for it. As far as attendance over the year, Logue said this is just a capstone.

“I think all we need to do is look up at this point,” she said. “I can’t see our attendance going down from where we were at the beginning of the season at this point. This is only going to get better.

Enga said it’s exciting for the players, as well.

“In a perfect world, we’d be playing in front of this kind of crowd every night. The guys know about the attendance expected and want to play in front of it,” he said. “They feed off the energy the crowd gives them.”

After the game, the “Human Google Project” will also be done. Fans will have a chance to sign up during the game for a 500 person spelling out of the word Google to be sent in with the other video.