By Arch Ecker
The #2 seeded Lone Star Brahmas and #3 seed Topeka RoadRunners square off in the NAHL Robertson Cup South Division Semi-Final. The Brahmas are the defending South Division playoff champions. During the regular season, the teams met eight times with each team winning four. Each team took 3 of 4 at home. The best-of-five series begins Friday night in North Richland Hills, TX before heading to Topeka the following weekend.
THREE IS THE KEY: In head to head matchups this season against Lone Star, when the RoadRunners have scored at least three goals, they would go on to win the game.
KINGS OF THE ROAD: The RoadRunners have enjoyed recent postseason success on the road, winning seven of their last eight away from Kansas.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Each team’s power play has been middle of the road this season, with Lone Star ranking 11th and Topeka 13th, but the Brahmas penalty killers were second best in the NAHL while Topeka’s ranked tenth. In the eight head to head matchups, Topeka went 6/49 (12.2%) and Lone Star went 6/36 (16.7%). The Brahmas also netted a shorthanded goal.
KEEPIN’ IT CLEAN: Topeka was the least penalized team in the South Division this season, while Lone Star was the second most penalized team (behind Odessa).
ONES TO WATCH: Topeka’s offense is powered by Dominic Lutz (Ferris State) who led the team in goals (26) and power play goals (13). Johnny Walker (Arizona State) has averaged nearly a point per game in his 15 games since arriving via trade from Minot. The RoadRunners add balanced scoring with Quinn Preston, JB Baker, and Luka Maver each netting 34 points. On the blue line, Tyler Hayes and Ryan O’Connor lead the way offensively, while John O’Connor suited up for all 60 games with a plus 11 rating. Topeka also packs a one-two goalie punch with Tyler Johnson (Maine) and Juho Niku. Lone Star is led by Alex Berardinelli (Colorado College) with 33 goals (including 7 shorthanded) and 22 assists. Defenseman Cameron Clarke (Ferris State) is second on the team in scoring with 50 points. Goalie Corbin Kaczperski (Yale) ranked third in the NAHL with a 1.98 goals against average.
ALL TIME SERIES: In regular season games, Topeka has a nominal edge, 12-9-3 while Lone Star is 12-10-2 in all time regular season games. Topeka is 4-7-1 in Lone Star’s building, and 8-2-2 at home. As a testament to how close these teams are, Topeka has outscored Lone Star by just one goal over the course of 24 regular season games, netting 62 to the Brahmas 61. Lone Star won the only playoff series between the clubs, 3 games to 1 in last season’s South Division Finals. Only once in the previous eight seasons since moving to Topeka have the RoadRunners been defeated in the SemiFinal round, and that was in 2013 to the Brahmas franchise predecessor, the Texas Tornado.
FEELIN’ STRONG: The RoadRunners will certainly miss the on-ice presence of captain Cam Strong (Dartmouth) who aged out on March 19. He led the team in plus-minus with plus 19 and despite missing the last 8 games, still finished third in team scoring (13g, 29a).
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: The RoadRunners franchise began as the Lone Star Cavalry in the AWHL Hockey South in 2003, and played in the building the Brahmas now call home. After one season, the Cavalry franchise was purchased and relocated to Santa Fe, NM as the RoadRunners where they played for three years before heading to Topeka. Meanwhile, the Texas Tornado franchise, longtime rivals with the RoadRunners, also played in North Richland Hills, TX until the 2003-04 season before moving across the Metroplex to Frisco, TX. In 2013, the Tornado were sold and moved back to North Richland Hills and rebranded as the Brahmas.