Runners slip up in semifinals with loss to Phantoms

The RoadRunners won the first two games of the round-robin Robertson Cup finals in St. Louis, but losses in their final two games ruined their chance of playing for the NAHL championship.

In the opening game of the tournament’s finals, Topeka beat Mahoning Valley 3-2. However, it was the only game the North Division runner-up would lose. With both teams finishing the round-robin with 2-1 records they had to face off once again, this time with the winner advancing to Sunday’s League Championship.

The RoadRunners had a 1-0 lead six minutes into the game which held until the middle of the second period, but the Phantoms answered with four straight goals before Topeka finally scored again with just three minutes left in the game. Mahoning Valley scored once again in the game’s final minute to end the RoadRunners’ season in a 5-2 loss.

“As soon as they scored that second-period goal you could tell it was probably over at that point,” said coach Scott Langer.

The postseason provided a grueling schedule for the RoadRunners, playing four games in four days and nine in the last 16.

“It seemed like in the second period we looked like we hit a wall,” said Langer. “We had an early lead there for a while, but once [Mahoning Valley] scored, you could tell the guys were just tired.”

The semifinal loss means the RoadRunners finish the season in third place while the Phantoms advance to the championship against the St. Louis Bandits, a team that also stole a 5-2 win against Topeka while completing the round-robin portion of the tournament with a 2-1 record.

In the RoadRunners’ matchup with the Bandits, a four-goal scoring spree once again led to the team’s demise. A spot in the semifinals was already locked up, but entering the third period with a 4-0 deficit ruined Topeka’s chances of making it to the finals with an undefeated Robertson Cup record.

A day before the team’s season-ending loss, Langer had already noticed some fatigue as well as a possible disadvantage of playing at St.Louis’ home in the Hardee’s Iceplex.

“We had a few mistakes due to tiredness,” said Langer. “Playing so many games in a row like this, then having to turn around and play a hot Phantoms team. There were some suspect calls, a lot didn’t go our way.”

Aside from sluggish play, the RoadRunners made costly errors that set St. Louis up for a victory.

“We weren’t good enough defensively as a unit,” said Langer. “We turned the puck over and they were just making plays. The difference tonight was that they made plays we didn’t.”

Taking care of business against Alexandria on Friday and against Mahoning Valley the day before, the loss to St. Louis wasn’t incredibly damaging. Alexandria was eliminated from the finals with an 0-3 record, including a 4-2 loss to Topeka.

The teams took turns scoring goals in the first two periods and began period three deadlocked 2-2. Two RoadRunners goals in the final period put the game away.

“Alexandria’s not a bad team,” said Reed Seckel, who scored Topeka’s final goal. “Any team who gets to this point is obviously one of the best in the league, so every win now is huge.”

In the first game of Topeka’s four-game journey through the playoffs, the RoadRunners did what they were unable to accomplish in the weekend’s semifinal matchup: beat the Phantoms. Trailing 2-1 in the third period, Topeka once again used two goals in the final period to emerge victorious.

The comeback win was a common occurrence during the season and shows a trait the RoadRunners displayed, win or lose, in their noteworthy top-three season.

“We never quit,” said Langer. “We could be down seven or eight goals and we work hard to the end just because we have good leadership and know it’s never over.”

Even though the RoadRunners were unable to win their second bout with the Phantoms, the team still made strides in their first season in Topeka, a feat that drew praise from Langer.

“Third place out of 18 is a good run,” said Langer. “We wanted to make it further and win this thing, but you can’t ask for anything more from these guys. The whole team just played outstanding all season long.”