RoadRunners taking month-long roadtrip

On the road again The Topeka RoadRunners are heading out on a month-long roadtrip, as they will not play in the Kansas Expocentre again until March 5. The March 6 game is the Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Night.

Richard Kelly

While they may have not been the prettiest games of the season for the Topeka RoadRunners, getting a two-game sweep this past weekend had to be a relief.

Friday’s game against the Texas Tornado (16-19-3) got off to a difficult start when Scott Deur of Texas fired the puck past Eric Rohrkemper to give the Tornado a 1-0 lead halfway through the first period. But Topeka (31-7-4) would answer less than three minutes later when Alec Hagaman scored an unassisted goal to tie the game. Justin Kovacs, in just his third game since being acquired from the Cedar Rapids Roughriders of the United States Hockey League, fired the puck past Dan Sullivan just a minute later to give the ‘Runners a 2-1 lead at first intermission.

The second period saw the teams have quality opportunites, but with only one penalty in the period and a shot margin of 29-12 for Topeka after two periods, the two teams still sat at 2-1.

Just 58 seconds into the third period, the game’s tempo changed when Texas’s Rock Einerson tied the game at two apiece. Halfway through the final frame, Kovacs would strike again and give him two goals on the night. Texas would take a late penalty with just 57 seconds in the third period to realistically put the game out of reach as the ‘Runners held on for a 3-2 victory.

Despite its close score, RoadRunners head coach Scott Langer was pleased with his team’s effort Friday.

“I think it was a good thing it was a tight game,” said Langer.  “You know, their goaltender was exceptional. We had a lot of real quality chances that he did just a great job with. So, it was a real good game, but I’m glad we had to fight to get it.”

Kovacs also knew that despite Topeka having to fight to win, the game was one that needed to be capitalized on after a two-game sweep by St. Louis just a weekend earlier.

“St. Louis is one of the top teams in the league, and I knew coming in that it was going to be big a big series,” said Kovacs. “Today was a big confidence booster. We got the win, and hopefully we’ll come out with another one and get it rolling again.”

As if scripted, the ‘Runners did get rolling early Saturday, as Kovacs had two goals in the first period, including one just 24 seconds in, and the score read 4-1 after the first period in favor of Topeka. But the second period would send the game another direction. At 9:35 in the second period on the powerplay, James Howard made a one-time play to set up Scott Deur to reduce the lead to 4-2. It was one of four powerplay goals by Texas on the night.

Just over two minutes later, a similar play resulted in a similar result when a powerplay goal by James Howard, his second of the night, cut the ‘Runners lead to 4-3. Tony Thomas would push the lead to 5-3 late in the period and set up an interesting third period.

A goal 5:51 into the third period and at the 10:49 mark by the Tornado notched the game at 5-5. But Patrick Kirtland put a rebound past Dan Sullivan at the 13:37 mark to put the ‘Runners back on top and two empty net goals would seal the victory as they pulled off an 8-5 victory.

After the game, while Langer wasn’t completely happy with his team’s effort, a more important notion was of the two points in the standings column.

“When it comes down to it, you have to have a team who knows how to win and we’re finding ways,” said Langer.

Kirtland, who scored the game winner, expressed a comparable notion.

“Every game isn’t going to be an easy one and you’re going to have ones that you have to battle for,” said Kirtland. “We needed this one.”

The ‘Runners did receive help from the Springfield Jr. Blues during the weekend, who knocked off the St. Louis Bandits Friday night before the Bandits rebounded Saturday. The Bandits now trail Topeka by three points with four games in hand. The ‘Runners now begin an eight-game stretch and don’t return to Landon Arena until March 5 against St. Louis. March 6 will be the ‘Runners Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Night.