The hotly contested battle for the NAHL South Division title has heated up even further as the St. Louis Bandits pulled to within 2 points of the first place Topeka RoadRunners by winning 4-2 on Friday night in Chesterfield, MO.
After splitting two games in Topeka the week before, the highly anticipated showdown at the Hardee\’s Iceplex got off to a flying start before an onslaught of penalties stripped the game of its flow and continuity. While skating 4-on-4, the Bandits created a turnover generating a quick odd man rush that resulted in a goal by Craig Kitto for a 1-0 Bandit lead at 4:38. In an inexplicable sequence, the RoadRunners were penalized 4 times in the span of 1:43, resulting a healthy stretch of 5-on-3 St. Louis power play time, which they scored on once at 9:56 on a rebound, the second goal of the night for Kitto. After finally getting back to 5-on-5, Alec Hagaman was hooked while coming in on a scoring chance and was awarded a rare penalty shot at 12:16 that he buried with a crisp wrist shot to close the gap to 2-1. Outshot 15-11 and shorthanded for an extended length, the \’Runners got out of the period within striking distance.
The second period calmed down significantly on the penalty front, the game was a display of two highly skilled teams bottling each other up and playing a high speed combination of chess and chicken, each side waiting for the other to make a mistake. Topeka got the equalizer they were seeking when Tony Thomas got a stick on a Bob Marx power play shot from the left point that went off Bandit goalie Tyler Bruggeman\’s stick and up under the crossbar at 6:38, and the game was tied at 2-2. It was still tied at the end of the second period.
Into the third period, the always opportunistic Bandits took a 3-2 lead when Cody Ganchar knocked in a rebound at 7:24. Topeka generated some chances down the stretch, and managed to get Eric Rohrkemper off the ice for the extra attacker, but the gamble backfired when Dan Olzsewski found the empty net in the waning seconds to seal the 4-2 win.
Topeka (39-9-5) faces St. Louis (39-10-3) one final time in the regular season on Saturday night. After three consecutive head to head matchups, the tension is high with so much on the line. Topeka\’s lead is now trimmed to 2 points while St. Louis still has a game in hand. The Bandits have five games remaining after Saturday, all against the Texas Tornado while the Runners play two in Wichita Falls and two at home against Springfield.