The Topeka RoadRunners may have only picked up two out of the four points this past weekend in a two-game series with the St. Louis Bandits, but none of the players are hanging their head.
Putting up a valiant effort on the offensive and defensive side of the game, the RoadRunners earned a split against the Bandits, who now trail Topeka (39-8-5) by four points with a game in hand in the race for the North American Hockey League South Division top spot.
Friday night’s effort saw St. Louis (38-10-3) pick up a powerplay goal halfway through the first period as Patrick Raley found the back of the net. But, just six minutes later on the powerplay, Kevin Ryan let a blast go from the blue line to tie the game at one as the game reached first intermission.
The second period went scoreless until Justin Kovacs put the puck in the net on a scrum. It gave Topeka a 2-1 lead going into second intermission, as the ‘Runners outshot the Bandits 12-3 in the period.
In the third, St. Louis tied the game early on another battle in front of the net. The game would remain deadlocked until Michael Hill put on an individual effort and rifled the puck by Bandit goalie Tyler Bruggeman which put Topeka back on top with only five minutes remaining. St. Louis would get a five-on-three powerplay late in the game and pull its goalie, making it six-on-three for the last minute of the game, but Evan Karembelas stymied the Bandits to preserve the victory.
Hill, who had the game-winner, expressed his appreciation for how his goaltender played the final minute.
“Evan played amazing, just stood on his head all night, with the exception of their one goal which was probably interference. Props to him tonight,” said Hill.
Being back at home was also a boost.
“It’s great to be back. Playing at home’s the best. You know, our fans love us, and you get up and they’re just loud and you hear everything, it’s just mind-boggling,” he said.
And they loved Topeka on Saturday, as a season-high crowd of 3,333 file into the Expocentre.
Early on, a shorthanded goal only six minutes in gave St. Louis a 1-0 lead. But resiliency paid off, as Topeka cashed in on the powerplay at the 12:17 mark of the first, when Alec Hagaman scored off an assist from Kovacs. Three minutes later, a St. Louis powerplay put the Bandits on top going into first intermission.
A scoreless second period brought a third period that left Topeka down 3-1 with 12 minutes remaining as a fluke play off a Topeka skate put the puck behind Karembelas. Topeka would battle late and bring the game within one on a Hill goal, but the late-game charge couldn’t get the tying goal past Bandit goaltender C.J. Groh. Over the weekend, Topeka outshot St. Louis 50-27.
After the game, RoadRunners head coach Scott Langer expressed slight disappointment in the way the team came out of the game Saturday.
“We fumbled some pucks there in the first period. We were not sharp. We were decent, but not sharp. And against them (St. Louis), you know, we’re a good team and we’re skilled, but we weren’t early,” said Langer.
Putting Saturday aside, Langer quickly shifted to next weekend, when Topeka will travel to St. Louis to finish a home-and-home series with two games in Chesterfield, Mo.
“It shows tonight you’ve got to be perfect to beat St. Louis,” said Langer. “They’re a good hockey team. We’ve just got to work hard this week and go in there with that mind.”
“Move it with MS and the RoadRunners” also had quite the evening, with orange ice and many orange shirts throughout the arena.
Jillian Foreman, the community development manager for the Mid-America Chapter of the National MS Society, was ecstatic about the support the organization received.
“This is absolutely the greatest thing that could’ve happened to get the word out about the MS Walk and then to raise money for MS,” said Foreman. “Really, it isn’t a very well-known disease so to let people know what it is, this is great.”
The game was also gratifying for Lisa Ille, who was one of the students in the junior leadership course involved in planning the event.
“It was a big success,” said Ille. “We were all really excited. We sold out of T-shirts. It was very emotional. Everything just went really well. It was just as good as we could have expected.”
Even Jen Montgomery, account executive for the RoadRunners saw the event’s success as a possible key to bringing people back to games.
“Hopefully this will bring the non-hockey fan back,” said Montgomery. “It was just awesome all-around. The only thing I can really say that sucked was we lost.”