‘Runners return home

Richard Kelly

The Topeka RoadRunners can finally avoid a bus ride to get their game this week.

After an eight-game road trip in which the RoadRunners (38-7-5) accumulated 15 of 16 possible points going 7-0-1, Topeka will play a two-game series this weekend with the St. Louis Bandits (37-9-3). St. Louis has one game in hand on the ‘Runners but is trailing Topeka by four points.

Topeka is coming off a weekend series in Owatonna, Minn., where the RoadRunners lost their first road game since Dec. 4 against the Texas Tornado, ending their streak at 10.

The ‘Runners started strong Friday night with a 5-2 victory. Erik Higby netted two goals and Michael Hill also had a goal and an assist for Topeka. Evan Karambelas made 11 saves on 13 shots, as the RoadRunners outshot Owatonna 27-13.

Saturday night’s match would see Topeka get behind 2-0 after the Express outshot the RoadRunners 10-3 through the first period. The ‘Runners got on the board halfway through the second period, as Alec Hagaman cut the lead to 2-1 and would enter second intermission down 3-2 after the Express took a 3-1 lead before Justin Kovacs brought Topeka within one.

Early in the third period, Kovacs tied the game but Owatonna would take the lead back four minutes later. With less than a minute left, Kovacs would tie the game again for a natural hat trick, which lead to overtime. No scoring through the overtime session left the teams in a shootout situation, which saw the Express outscore the RoadRunners 2-1 and win the game in the seventh round.

Assistant coach R.J. Enga knew that the ‘Runners had to be on their guard with their record and saw that play into Saturday’s decision.

“When you’re one of the top teams, you’re going to get the other team’s best game. They want to be able to tell everyone they beat that top team,” said Enga.

In an injury update, forward Cole Schneider will be returning to practice with the team, but is not likely to play. Schneider has only played 21 games this season compared to the 45 to 50 games of many Topeka players, but still sits in seventh on the team with 29 points.

As he comes back into the lineup, Enga isn’t worried about him fitting in.

“I don’t think it’ll be difficult to put Schneider anywhere in the lineup,” said Enga. “He’s still pretty high in our points on the team, and likely if he hadn’t gotten injured, he’d be up near Erik Higby for the top points on the team.”

Topeka heads into this weekend 2-2-1 against St. Louis this season. Both games start at 7:05 p.m. The series is a home-and-home series, as Topeka will travel to St. Louis next weekend.