RoadRunners set for home opener Friday night

Nathan Miller

The Topeka RoadRunners will be thinking of avalanches Friday night. The RoadRunners take on the Alaska Avalanche in their regular season home debut and are also hoping for an avalanche of fans.

“I expect the turnout is going to be good,” said Arch Ecker, director of business operations. “I know everyone wants to know a number, but I’m not going to say a number because you either set yourself up for disappointment or you’re going to look like a fool either way. We’re just hoping to get a solid turnout and based on the buzz around town, I think people know about us and they’re excited.”

Ecker and his staff will see this weekend if Topeka fans are interested in embracing hockey for a fourth time. Topekans rejected two different Topeka Scarecrow organizations and left the Topeka Tarantulas without their legs after just one season.

But Topeka resident Dan Brosa, who works as a physician assistant at Stormont-Vail and has been a supporter of every hockey team in Topeka, said Topeka is ready this time around.

“Topeka just really needed something to rally around,” said Brosa. “I’m glad it was a hockey team. This team is going to be good for the community and we’re going to support it.”

Around 600 fans showed up to the RoadRunners’ two home preseason games against the Hampton Roads Junior Whalers Sept. 11 and 12. The number closely rivaled what the organization would have expected in its previous location, Santa Fe, where a good regular season night was just more than 400 fans. But Ecker explained the preseason games weren’t advertised well and expects Friday to be different.

“We scheduled [the preseason games] very late in the game,” said Ecker. “It’s just something that presented itself as an opportunity and we used it not only to give the players a chance to get their feet under them before the regular season starts, but for us operationally to kind of start kicking the tires a bit, turn on the amps and the lights and let’s see how things work before we come, guns blazing, at the end of the month with the opening of the season.”

The players who played on the Santa Fe team believe Topeka is a completely different atmosphere. They now have a custom team locker room and enjoy the presence of billboards supporting the RoadRunners. Interaction with the community has left players with expectations of a packed Landon Arena on Friday.

“We didn’t have a huge crowd because they were preseason games, but we did have a wonderful crowd,” said Blake Humphrey, forward. “They were exciting and they really seemed to get into the game. I can’t wait until we fill the arena.”

The RoadRunners may have won the luck of the draw by bringing in Alaska, who went 16-39 last year and placed last in the South division. The match will give the RoadRunners a good chance to show Topeka what they can do.

“I don’t know much about Alaska, but I do know we can never underestimate any team, whether it’s Alaska or anyone else,” said Humphrey. “We’re going to come out like we always do with a game plan and play as hard as possible. That’s how it’s going to be every single night.”