by Arch Ecker
Topeka RoadRunners forward Erik Higby owns a number of records in the RoadRunners Record Book, and with his final junior hockey playoff run about to kick off, he\’s keeping his eyes on the prize.
When the Mahoning Valley Phantoms left the NAHL to join the USHL at the end of last season, Higby was stunned to find he\’d not been included in the move. \”I was surprised, and I was upset since I had spent a year there and was all settled in and I felt I had a pretty strong season for them as well as a strong playoff run\”, the forward from New Braunfels, TX said. Indeed, as the teams\’ sixth leading scorer with 11 goals and 23 assists and a respectable plus +15 rating, he quickly became one of the most attractive free agents available. With his family having relocated to Texas from his childhood home in Michigan, he set his sights on the South Division, and right away the best option seemed to be Topeka. \”I made the choice to come here after talking with the coaches and owner and learning about how great the fans are in Topeka.\” The fans were quickly impressed by Higby\’s speed, playmaking ability, and nose for the net. Higby felt comfortable right away, and sensed early on that this team was something special. \”I knew our team was special right away because all our personalities were clicking and then we really came together to play as a team. \” He went on to reminisce, \”Our eleven game win streak was great!!\”
Not only did Higby\’s team enjoy a number of win streaks, Higby himself had some impressive personal streaks as well. His six game, seven goal streak is tied for the league\’s longest this year (along with teammate Michael Hill). His twelve game, 22 points streak was matched over the same time frame by linemate Justin Kovacs (who had 24 points). That streak is also equal to the longest in the NAHL this season. Looking back, Coach Langer sees clearly how Higby accomplished so much. \”Erik\’s relentless work ethic, high hockey IQ and big time compete level can all be attributed to his success.\”
The coaching staff had high expectations for Higby, but he surpassed all of them. \”It\’s pretty tough to forecast anyone being the leagues scoring leader\”, said Topeka Head Coach / GM Scott Langer. \”What our staff knew was that his tools were good and his work ethic was high end.\” Higby felt a little \”off\” early in the season, but stayed focused and it paid off. \”I was hoping I was going to have a successful season, but I had a rough start the first few games. Once the team started to click it helped me play better as well. I did set goals, but I took this season one game at a time.\” The arrival of former Mahoning Valley teammate Cole Schneider helped get things rolling, and Higby never looked back. When the dust settled at the end of the season, Higby had racked up a franchise record 80 points, including 53 assists, another franchise single season record. He led the entire NAHL in scoring, and also in the plus/minus category with an impressive plus +36 rating. While he has already secured his place in RoadRunner history, he is more concerned with helping his team bring home the elusive hardware. \”I think our team\’s confidence is high after winning the (regular season) South Division and heading in to playoffs, but playoffs is different from the regular season so we\’ll need to bring our best.\” Higby got a taste of the Robertson Cup Tournament last season, as the Phantoms topped Traverse City and Team USA on the way to the Tournament in North Iowa. Once there, they defeated Bismarck and North Iowa before falling to Wenatchee 5-4 in OT, and then 5-2 to St. Louis, leaving them just short of a shot at the Cup. Higby played in all 14 postseason games, posting 5 goals and 4 assists. The chance to play for the Cup with his new team now sits just 6 wins away.
Pausing for a moment to reflect on his Topeka experience, a grin spreads across his face. \”I\’ve really enjoyed my time in Topeka very much. The coaches are great and the town loves hockey. It\’s a great place to play. Some junior programs just don\’t get the support that we get.\” Asked if any memory stands out for him, he simply says, \”I\’ve had a lot of fond moments both on and off the ice. Getting to know my teammates has been great.\”
His future plans after juniors are clear. \”Next year I\’m hoping to play for a Division I school, possibly in Michigan or maybe out east. I look forward to moving to the next level. I grew up in Michigan watching the CCHA schools so that would be great to play in my home state. I plan to study sports management as I want to always stay involved in hockey and hopefully this field will help with that.\” He feels strongly that his decision to play in Topeka was the right one. \”I can\’t say enough great things about the RoadRunners organization. From recruiting last summer all the way through the season they have been awesome. It has been great playing with my teammates. Coach (Scott) Langer and coach R.J. (Enga) have really helped me bring my game up to the next level and I can\’t thank them enough.\” Langer says of his record setting recruit, \”When I speak with schools about Erik, I tell them to look beyond his stats. I tell them they\’re getting not just a hockey player with high end ability and competitiveness, but a quality citizen.\” Typically quiet and unassuming, Higby does his talking on the ice and through his interactions with fans and area youth. In Topeka, he comes through loud and clear.
UPDATE: April 3, 2010 – Higby has realized his dream by committing to Northern Michigan University beginning in Fall 2010.