Runners net victory Thursday, cough up second game Friday

Pucked! RoadRunner forward Steve Shafer fires a wrist shot above Ice Dogs goalie Cody Reichard to tie game one 1-1 in the second period with 3

They might as well be called the HomeRunners, because for the rest of the 2008 South Division Finals the RoadRunners will not play on the road.

The RoadRunners may be playing the most crucial games in Topeka hockey history, but the entertainment from this series, which is tied 1-1, has been provided by what’s happening away from the ice.

Bucketman, broken zambonis and verbal assaults from the opposition’s coach are just some of the off-ice antics Topeka hockey fans witnessed in the first two games of the series, and thanks to an agreement between the Runners and the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, there will be more playoff hockey at Landon Arena than was originally expected.

“It started with Fairbanks being willing to stay here,” said RoadRunners operations manager Arch Ecker. “Then the league set us up to travel to Alaska for the last three games, to us finally reaching accord with the Ice Dogs to have all the games played in Topeka.”

The Ice Dogs were skeptical about playing an entire series on the road rather than just two or three games, but after considering the physical and financial drain of a $20,000 plane ride across the country both teams decided that flying to Alaska for two hockey games was an idea of which only Wile E. Coyote would approve.

“Because of the economics involved there really is no perfect answer, but we think this agreement is best for both teams,” said RoadRunner head coach Scott Langer. “With the Robertson Cup Finals being in St. Louis, whoever advances from this series is better served to leave from Topeka without the fatigue of traveling back and forth from Alaska.”

Fairbanks will technically be considered the home team for games three and four, but that won’t stop faithful RoadRunner fans from wearing red and gold and making as many distracting air horn and cowbell noises as humanly possible. The biggest benefit of home games is the fans, an advantage Topeka capitalized on in a first-round sweep of the Texas Tornado and in a 3-1 game one victory against Fairbanks.

“I’m sorry that Fairbanks won’t get a home game, but we’re not giving up our home ice that we earned,” said RoadRunners owner Mary Magdalene Lorang. “We’ve given a lot to make it as fair as possible.”

After all the negotiations of home-ice advantage, it appeared early in game one that the arena had no impact on the Ice Dogs. Aaron Stonacek scored on a shorthanded goal to give Fairbanks a 1-0 lead in the first period. Despite out shooting the Ice Dogs 14-5 in the second period, it wasn’t until the 3:22 mark that Steve Shafer was able to slam home Topeka’s first goal.

The rest of the RoadRunner scoring came right after costly Ice Dog penalties. Fairbanks was short-handed after getting called for tripping Topeka goalkeeper Bryce Merriam. RoadRunner forward Corey Jendras, who was named to the NAHL All-South Division team along with defenseman Aaron Jens before the game, converted on the power play to make it 2-1. Josh Kamrass put the game away in the third period on another power-play goal.

“We know it’s going to be a tough game when we play these guys,” said Jendras. “They play physical and they aren’t afraid to get in there and hit people. There’s always a lot of stuff that really isn’t hockey that goes on.”

Cue the repeated attempts at fights on Saturday, multiple zamboni accidents and the wallpapering of the Ice Dog team bench. None of these things are related to the actual game, but are the typical shenanigans to which Jendras is referring to when top teams like Topeka and Fairbanks square off with a division title on the line.

The behavior of the teams and their benches was almost as erratic as the driving of the Expocentre’s female zamboni driver. Game two started 30 minutes late thanks to a zamboni malfunction and caused a delay again before the third period, when the replacement driver crashed into a wall and knocked a chain loose on the machinery.

In an attempt to separate themselves from the restless RoadRunner fans, the Ice Dogs tried to cover the walls of their bench with paper. However, officials thought the Ice Dogs’ idea was about as good as the movie “Sled Dogs” and decided the paper should be taken down. Unfortunately for the RoadRunners, the mistakes didn’t stop once the game started.

“Fairbanks capitalizes on mistakes,” said Langer. “Our game was full of mistakes in the first two periods.”

Topeka held the Ice Dogs scoreless until the 7:20 mark of the second period, but once the scoring started it could not be stopped. Fairbanks scored three unanswered goals in a four-minute span.

In the third period, Shafer scored his second goal of the series to cut the score to 3-1, but it would turn out to be the only one of Topeka’s 24 shots to get by Ice Dog goalkeeper Cody Reichard.

With the loss, the Runners leave home and travel all the way to the visitor’s bench for a “road game” 7:05 p.m. Thursday at Landon Arena against Fairbanks. Topeka will change into their away jerseys, but Langer hopes that’s not the only thing his team changes between games.

“We didn’t play our hardest in the first couple periods,” said Langer. “I think the loss could potentially be a positive in the long run. We need to regain our focus, and this is our first loss in the playoffs. Hopefully, with enough practice we can bounce back in game three.”