Two local fans played large part in bringing hockey back to Topeka

Nathan Miller

Bucketman and Mike Cline may not carry the same heroic punch as Batman and Robin. But for the Topeka RoadRunners, these two men are hockey’s caped crusaders.

“They are the heart and soul behind us,” said Corey Jendras, RoadRunner forward.

By day, Bucketman is local resident and Hill’s Pet Nutrition employee Jason Simonsen and a crazed bucket-drumming character modeled off his role model, the NFL’s Crazy George, by night. Cline is a custodian for Parkdale Preschool.

“Bucketman and Mike are the reason hockey is in Topeka,” said Aaron Gens, RoadRunners defender. “They spent their own money to come down to Santa Fe and promote Topeka. They’re the main reasons why we’re in Topeka.”

Simonsen and Cline, who watched hockey leave Topeka for the third time with the exit of the Tarantulas, were not about to give up on the sport they loved. Two and a half years ago these two fans created Topeka Hockey ’07, a fan group dedicated to bringing hockey back to Topeka.

“It’s truly a fan issue with me and love of the game,” said Simonsen. “Topeka Hockey ’07 was what we called ourselves because we knew it would take two years to convince the right owner and the right league that it could be profitable for the owner and the Expocentre.”

The two took to the Internet to find the right fit for Topeka and the North American Hockey League was the league that offered the most results. But the RoadRunners were not the first team they talked to. Only after talking to the owners of the North Dakota Bobcats and Chicago Freeze were they directed to current RoadRunners owner Mary Magdalene Lorang.

“When we lost the Tarantulas, we were working with the Topeka Ice people and decided we needed a team here to develop the interest in that separate sheet of ice,” said Cline. “The league that kept on popping up was the NAHL. We talked to several owners and they told us to get in contact with Mary because she was having such a hard time out in Santa Fe bringing in people.”

The RoadRunners contemplated a move to Topeka two seasons ago but the Expocentre could not offer enough open weekends for home games. But Simonsen and Cline’s promotional package was enough to get Lorang interested again, and now the RoadRunners are hoping the fourth time will be the charm for Topeka hockey.

“I’m not rich and I’m not poor by any means, but I’m not rich,” said Cline. “We have no financial involvement in the RoadRunners. We just used our brains and did some research and talked to these people and we convinced them that Topeka can handle this junior team.”

The RoadRunners have already sold enough season tickets to pay for ice time and have been averaging 1,800 fans per night. With full support of the booster club, Cline is confident the RoadRunners will be successful.

“Topeka is a hockey town whether people want to believe it or not,” said Cline. “When the original team was here in Topeka. We were averaging over 5,000 fans a night. Those people are still here in Topeka we just have to bring them a team they want to see and I think this is the team they want to see.”

Regardless of success, Cline will continue to come to home games accompanied by his wife, who Cline says comes to laugh at him because he is such an “avid supporter.” He may even wave at as he jokingly calls his apprentice Bucketman, who can be found across the arena hanging over the glass, pounding a bucket frantically right above the opponents bench.

“I’m the man behind Bucketman,” said Cline. “No, I’m just kidding. When we were out to Santa Fe and then talked to the players weeks later I would be like, ‘Remember me?’ And they would say no. And then I would say, ‘I’m the guy that was with Bucketman.’ It’s an inside joke between us.”

As for Simonsen, he is lucky to find one that regards him as Jason and not Bucketman. But that’s OK with him as long as there is hockey to support his alter ego.

“There are players that played here in the CHL for three or four years that have no clue what my name is,” said Simonsen. “So its kind of the admiration of the sport for me to be involved. When I’m here that’s who I am. That’s who I am to the kids, to the fans and when I’m signing trading cards.”