In the first of a highly anticipated string of four consecutive head-to-head battles, the top two teams in the NAHL South did not disappoint. In a sometimes brisk, thoroughly high-spirited affair, the Topeka RoadRunners pulled out a 3-2 win on Friday night in front of 2,539 fans in Landon Arena.
Determined to set the tone on home ice after spending 4 consecutive weeks on the road, Topeka had 6 shots on goal before St. Louis managed their first one. Topeka rattled off 4 more shots but the Bandits second shot was a power play shot from the blue line by Patrick Raley at 10:16 to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead. The \’Runners answered with a mirror image goal of their own, with Kevin Ryan netting his sixth of the year, also from the blue line and also on the power play at 16:05. Topeka outshot the Bandits 12-3 in the first period.
In the second period, three power plays helped Topeka keep St. Louis on their heels, the third of which resulted in a Justin Kovacs goal, #12 on the year at 14:39. After 2 periods, the \’Runners led 2-1 and were outshooting their guests 24-7.
The third period saw things start to get heated right off the bat. Jordan Bourgonje hit Jacob Poe from behind, starting a mini-brawl in the corner just :14 seconds in. Bourgonje was assessed a five minute major and a game ejection, though the Bandits league best penalty kill held fast and a \’Runners hooking call took care of the rest as the teams started trading penalties. It was during a segment of 4-on-4 hockey that Cody Ganchar backhanded in a rebound at 6:25 to tie the game at 2-2.
RoadRunner head coach Scott Langer is often quoted about finding a way to win. Michael Hill provided the way as he buried a gorgeous feed from Justin Kovacs at 15:06 for a 3-2 lead. When Bandit Daniel Olzsewski took a pointless two minute Unsportsmanlike Conduct call with 2:47 to play, it seemed the \’Runners were in the driver seat. Then just :47 seconds later, a slashing call on Tony Thomas wiped out the power play and a roughing call on Martin Sundstedt :12 seconds after that put St. Louis on the powerplay with 1:48 left. As the Olzsewski penalty expired, Bandit goalie Tyler Bruggeman sprinted for the bench and there were six Bandits against three RoadRunners for the final :45 seconds. RoadRunner goalie Evan Karambelas sprawled to and fro while Topeka penalty killers battled to slow the charging Bandits. When the buzzer sounded, the RoadRunners had weathered the storm, posting a 3-2 win over their division rivals.
Topeka (39-7-5) and St. Louis (37-10-2) meet again Saturday night at 7:05 pm. The \’Runners lead is now 6 points while St. Louis has one game in hand.
- Forward Cole Schneider made his return to the lineup, but was held without a point ending his scoring streak at 7 games.
- Forward Nate Milam also returned after sitting out both games in Owatonna.
- Three RoadRunners kept scoring streaks alive. Erik Higby now has 21 points in 11 straight games, Justin Kovacs has 23 points in 11 straight games, and Michael Hill has 16 points in 10 straight games.
- Goalie Evan Karambelas has won his last 6 starts, and is 16-1-0 in his last 17 starts. His 2.07 GAA is second in the NAHL.
- Forward Erik Higby, with a 3 point night has moved in a first place tie for the scoring title with 72 points. He also leads the NAHL in plus/minus with a stellar +33.