The Santa Fe RoadRunners, a North American Hockey League team, is hoping their third move in five years will be the charm. The RoadRunners will play next season in Topeka’s Landon Arena as the Topeka RoadRunners.
“It’s an incredibly positive feeling,” said Mary Madalene Lorang, president and owner. “I’ve received over 50 e-mails reassuring me that things will work out in Topeka. The response from volunteers, fans and past ticket holders has just been overwhelming.”
However, three hockey franchises have gave the city of Topeka a swing and all three have struck out. Topeka residents watched the Central Hockey League’s Topeka Tarantulas pack bags in 2005 after just one season of play. Before the Tarantulas it was the Topeka Scarecrows, who played in the CHL from 1998-2001, then switched to the junior level United States Hockey League from 2001-2003 before finally tanking financially.
Despite previous failures, in an NAHL press release on Feb. 22, Kansas Expocentre General Manager H.R. Cook said he and the staff are looking forward to putting a successful product on Topeka ice.
“The staff of the Kansas Expocentre looks forward to hosting hockey again and we’re encouraged by Mary’s enthusiasm and passion for the sport of hockey,” said Cook. “We’re excited to work with the RoadRunners to present the best product possible on the ice.”
Lorang also believes success in Topeka is possible this time around. Pointing out that a Junior A hockey team has a significantly lower operating cost compared to a semi-professional team. Lorang also says the level of play is just more exciting, drawing in more fans.
“Maybe I’m a bit biased because I own a team,” said Lorang. “We offer quicker play, the kids take more hits and it’s just more of an exciting atmosphere and game play. With semi-professional you have older guys on the ice and it’s just boring compared to watching these younger kids.”
Tapping into Topeka’s family atmosphere will also benefit the RoadRunners. Even though the city hasn’t had a hockey team in over a year and a half, the booster club supporting the new team already has 100 members. Lorang has received several requests to house players and plans on hosting an event early next year to allow the community to meet and greet with the organization.
“I want to introduce the team to the community of Topeka,” said Lorang. “The overall atmosphere and attitude is very different in Topeka. It is a relief to have people that actually want you.”
But the Santa Fe RoadRunners haven’t had their share of financial success either. The team has exchanged ownership four times through the course of its short history. After playing just one season as the Lone Star Cavalry in Fort Worth, Texas, NHL figures bought the team and moved it to Santa Fe in 2004. A season later, a group of local owners bought the team and ran it as a non-profit organization until investor and current owner, Lorang, bought the team in March of 2006.
Lorang has now decided to move the team to Topeka for a fresh start. Without support from the Genoveva Chavez Community Center and the city of Santa Fe, according to the Albuquerque Journal on Feb. 23, Lorang expected to lose $500,000 operating the team over the course of the year.
“No support came from Genoveva, there wasn’t even a link to the hockey team on their Web site,” said Lorang. “I was told last year by an employee they didn’t want us there. Just incredible opposition and, to say the least, it was not a good experience.”
The RoadRunners’ only revenue came from ticket sales, which were only drawing in a little over 400 fans, and revenue from the gift shop. However, in Topeka, the RoadRunners will get a share of parking, concessions, beer sales and ticket revenue. As sole owner, Lorang has made it a personal mission for hockey to be a success in Topeka.
“A lot of owners don’t take initiative to live in the same area,” said Lorang. “I plan on purchasing a house in Topeka. This is my business, I’m overseeing it and I hope to make Topeka a main stay.”
The RoadRunners are 34-14, second in the NAHL South division, and have already clinched a playoff berth.