By Arch Ecker
As the midsummer heat beats down on the capital city of Kansas, the promise of ice in the Expocentre seems all the more tantalizing. With the RoadRunners approaching the beginning of their sixth season in Topeka and ninth season overall (tenth if you include the Lone Star Cavalry season in North Richland Hills, TX), fans become increasingly curious, anticipating which of their favorite players will be returning for the new season. There will be some great talent and some familiar names when the players report to Topeka in August.
Starting with the forwards, there are five of them from last year’s roster who are currently expected to be in Topeka. Kyle Sharkey is a gifted puck handler and co-winner of the teams “Hard Hat Award” who put up 30 points in each of his first two seasons in Topeka. He wore an “A” on his sweater last season as an alternate captain is expected to provide leadership and scoring punch. “Kyle took a puck to the mouth, losing both front teeth late in the final game of the playoffs and returned to finish the game”, recalled Head Coach / GM Scott Langer. “That’s a level of commitment and passion you don’t often see. That's the level of commitment we are looking for from every RoadRunner.” Dan Dupell, another third year RoadRunner who erupted offensively last season with 22 goals (tied for the team lead) returns with his eye on helping the team reach new heights. “This team has been close for years. It’s time to finish the job”, he said. Sean Gaffney returns with high expectations. “He has the size, strength, and the hands to be dominant at this level”, said Langer. “His hockey sense and awareness have grown, especially late last season. We look forward to seeing him continue his growth both on and off the ice.” Another of the returning forwards is James Ring, who was given the teams “Most Improved” award last year. Appearing in 47 games last season, he contributed 13 points including 4 on the power play. “James has a great work ethic he is very consistent”, Langer stated. “He’s quietly paid his dues in practice and in the roles we’ve needed him in. This year should be a huge one for him.” Rounding out the forwards is Jake Kamrass, who as the youngest player on the roster garnered some valuable experience at the Tier II level. He appeared in 17 games but more importantly learned what it takes to be a RoadRunner. “There will be other ’94 birth years coming in this season that may still be a little starstruck at first but for Jake, he’s already acclimated to all of that”, said Langer. “That should put him ahead of the curve moving forward.”
There’s an old adage in sports that offense sells tickets and defense wins championships. If that’s true, the RoadRunners can feel good about bringing back five defensemen from last year’s club who combined for a plus 48 rating. Mick Bruce leads returning blueliners in that category with a plus 14 along with 6 points in 53 games played. “He’s a big physical presence and advances the puck well”, said Langer. Kevin Patterson returns after an impressive rookie season that saw him put up 18 points and become a fixture on the power play. Langer likes what he’s seen from Patterson, saying, “Patty’s work ethic and commitment to the game will put him at the very top amongst defensemen in the NAHL. He contributes offensively while staying responsible defensively.” Trace Strahle led all Topeka defensemen in scoring with 19 points. “He carries the puck like a forward at times making him a great asset, and he’s very intelligent when it comes to picking his spots”, said Langer. “His speed makes him a great two-way player.” Luke Veitch returns for his second season as well. “Luke’s ability to skate and add offense from the blueline this year will be noticeable right out of the gate.” He put up 10 points last season and figures to be an anchor in the coming year. Rounding out the returning blueliners is Michal Pastor. “Michal has tremendous strength and he loves to play physical”, said Langer. “Michal's ability to make plays and shoot pucks adds to a very talented blue line."
The RoadRunners will welcome several players to Topeka in late August as they battle for the initial 25 roster spots. Check topekaroadrunners.com for news on open practices, “Meet the ‘Runners” events, and other preseason activities.