The stars came into perfect alignment for a magical evening in Landon Arena on Thursday evening, and the RoadRunners capped it all off with a 5-2 win on the ice to capture their second South Division crown in three years.
The stage was set. One game left in the regular season. Topeka needing a single point to clinch the title. A local grassroots effort (called \”Think BIG Topeka\”) dedicated to bringing Google\’s Fiber Optic Experiment to town partnered with WIBW-TV among others to sell out all 7,777 seats in the building as part of a video project to submit to Google. A RoadRunner win in front of a full house would not only secure the South title, but at least a share of the NAHL Regular Season title as well. With all of these factors converging into one incredible evening, there was one more bomb to drop: the NAHL awarded Topeka the 2011 Robertson Cup bid, meaning next seasons tournament will be hosted in Topeka, affording the RoadRunners an automatic bid. NAHL Commissioner Mark Frankenfeld was on hand to make the announcement.
When the puck dropped, the RoadRunners were off like a shot. The sellout crowd \”ooh\”ed and \”ahh\”ed at some thunderous hits and oh-so-close scoring chances for the home team. When the first period drew to a close, though, it was a scoreless tie though the \’Runners had outshot the Jr. Blues 18-2.
In the second period, the building erupted when Cole Schneider tipped in a Nickolas Gatt shot at 2:02 for the 1-0 lead, and the rafters shuddered again at 8:48 when Alec Hagaman blistered a shot over the blocker of Andrew Martin. Springfield caught a break late in the period, though, when Randy Cure stepped out of the penalty box, caught a pass and fumbled with the rolling puck, finally swatting it as a last resort and sending it fluttering over the glove hand of Evan Karambelas to make it a 2-1 hockey game after 2 periods despite a 35-8 shots on goal advantage for Topeka.
The third period started and it was evident the \’Runners were on a mission. Their zeal landed them in the penalty box three times but they also pumped in three goals to close out the win. The first shift scored the first of the three goals, with Alec Hagaman pumping in his second of the night and 29th of the year just :21 seconds in. At 6:12 Erik Higby made it 4-1 \’Runners, and after Trent Frey snapped home a goal during a frenzied push in the \’Runners zone at 9:51, Topeka delivered the knockout punch as Bryce Johnson tapped in a pretty pass from Cole Schneider for the 5-2 margin.
Topeka closes out the season with a franchise best 44-9-5 record, a South Division title, at least a share of the NAHL Regular Season title, and a record sellout crowd of 7,777. Their first round opponent will be Springfield, who the \’Runners were 9-2-1 against this season. The Semi-Final round begins in Topeka April 2 and 3. The full playoff schedule will be released by the NAHL early next week.