Off-Season 101: Support System
Welcome back for another edition of Off-Season 101! With the Final Camp now less than a month away, the pieces are rapidly falling into place to bring the 2013-2014 version of the RoadRunners to Topeka. This week we take a look at the support structure that will be in place for the boys so that they can hit the ground running this August.
Hitching a Ride
RoadRunner players come from all points of the compass. They travel here from Alaska, New York, Georgia, and California. From Canada, Slovakia, Sweden, Japan, Turks and Caicos, and so on, chasing the dream of playing competitive hockey. But with the closest major airport over an hour away, who do we rely on to get the guys from the airport and onto the ice? One of the most dedicated and supportive network of fans in the NAHL, that’s who. “All I have to do is pick up the phone and our fans are there with whatever I need,” said Head Coach Scott Langer. Whether it’s a last second ride to and from KCI or food and drinks for road trips during the season, RoadRunners fans and sponsors heed the call without fail. They selflessly provide the indispensible support that every NAHL franchise needs to thrive. It is said that “it takes a village.” The RoadRunners have a city.
A Home Away From Home
Once the players are in town, what then? A remarkable group of individuals open their hearts and homes to the RoadRunners for the entire season. They are known a Billet Families. Approximately 25 Topeka-area families take part in the Billet Program, some of whom have been housing players since the USHL Scarecrows were in existence. These hockey heroes provide more than just a place to sleep. They become second parents to the boys in their charge, caring for them when they’re sick, helping them fix their cars, giving them a hand with their school work, and working in concert with the coaches to make sure team rules are being followed. From August until the end of April and beyond, these families become a part of the player’s lives and provide an invaluable foundation without which the team could not function.
Education is Paramount
The NAHL field players aged 16-20. Therefore, most if not all of the boys are furthering their education in some way or other be it high school or college. The fundamental goal of the league is to act as a spring board for players to reach the next level by earning a college scholarship. It is with this in mind that the RoadRunners commit themselves to educating in every aspect. By coordinating with local school districts and identifying accredited on-line resources, the staff not only puts high-school-aged players on the path to a diploma, but also provides the support and oversight for their education through part-time college courses. All of this focus on the education is aimed at putting these young men in a Division I or Division III college program. For their part, the RoadRunners are among the most successful programs in junior hockey at advancing their players to successful college careers.
Every team needs a gym to keep their players fit and conditioned for the rigors of a 60-game season. The RoadRunners have partnered with GreatLife Golf and Fitness for the 2013-2014 season to provide their players with a superior and fully equipped training facility. Weight training and stationary bike “spin sessions” are crucial in helping the RoadRunners keep their legs from Game One all the way to the playoffs. The team also employs less conventional methods to grow their player’s abilities. ATA Martial Arts sponsors the RoadRunners’ mixed martial arts (MMA) training to help develop an even more physical brand of hockey player. And after all of the team coordinated workouts and training, the players utilize these facilities on their own time for extra exercise.
Nestled in the heart of Topeka is one of the most visible and attractive venues in junior hockey: The Kansas Expocentre. Known as Landon Arena (named after Kansas Governor Alfred T. Landon), the Expocentre holds 7,777 fans and has been the top entertainment complex in Kansas since its doors opened in 1987. With two large video boards and a wealth of concessions for fans, Landon Arena is an ideal platform for competitive hockey. For the players, there is a full locker room complete with showers, a training room, a coaches room, and an office for the equipment manager. The Arena also has a skate room for team video and study sessions and space for team building activities. Few teams in the NAHL can boast a home like the RoadRunners have in the Expo.
That will be all for this week, class! Next week, we’ll discuss how the team is put together once the players arrive in August. Until then, Go Runners!!!