Entering the final weekend of a grueling eight game road swing, the Topeka RoadRunners knew they would have to be sharp against a high-flying Owatonna Express club. Despite a 3-0-0 record vs Owatonna this season, head coach Scott Langer knew better than to count his chickens, as it were, especially after seeing the fight put up by Albert Lea the week before. The ‘Runners, though, sailed to their 9th consecutive win to stay on top of the NAHL standings.
The ‘Runners wasted no time getting on the scoreboard, as Erik Higby jumped on a flubbed Express pass in their own zone, came in alone on Express netminder Matt Hemingway and beat him with a nifty five-hole shot for a 1-0 lead at 1:59. Topeka played responsibly in their defensive zone, and also managed the puck well on their two first period power play chances as well, but the lead was still 1-0 when Tony Thomas was hauled down from behind on a shorthanded breakaway, resulting in a penalty shot at 19:10. Thomas buried a blocker side wrister for a 2-0 lead that stood at the end of the first period.
In the second period, the ‘Runners started off by killing the remainder of a first period penalty, then generated some quality chances on consecutive powerplays but couldn\’t score. Owatonna cut the lead in half when Zach Vierling backhanded a rebound into the net on an Express power play at 10:19, and the score stayed that way for most of what was sloppy, choppy period compared to the wide open flying first period. In the final minute, however, a quick offensive burst gave Topeka two quick scores to pull ahead 4-1. The first of the two was an Edgars Lipsbergs rebound goal off an Alec Hagaman scoring chance, set up by Chris Bond, with the left handed Lipsbergs sliding the puck on his forehand around behind Matt Hemingway. Just :07 seconds later, a Michael Hill shot was denied by Hemingway the rebound sprung off him only to be swatted in by Erik Higby for his second goal of the night, a goal that stood despite a vigorous argument and an official review. Topeka owned all the momentum, outshooting the Express 18-9 through two periods and leading by three.
In the third period, the RoadRunners managed to maintain pressure, outshooting Owatonna 9-4. The Express would add a second power play goal with Nick Widing slapping in a crossing pass at 7:04 to make it a 4-2 game, but the Topeka defense was solid in front of netminder Evan Karambelas and after each team had used their timeouts in the final minute of play, Owatonna was able to pull the goalie for the extra attacker. Michael Hill sealed the win when he saucered the puck 130 feet into the abandoned goal for the 5-2 win.
Topeka (38-7-4) closes out their 8 game road swing with a final game Saturday night in Owatonna (27-19-4). The ‘Runners stay ahead of St. Louis in the NAHL South by 4 points after the Bandits held off North Iowa 4-2, and one point ahead of Wenatchee for the overall NAHL title.