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RoadRunner defenseman announces NCAA commitment to Augsburg

TOPEKA, Kan. – Topeka RoadRunners defenseman John O'Connor, a Moorehead, Minn., native, will return to his home state for the next four years as the blueliner recently announced that he has committed to NCAA Div. 3 Augsburg College for the fall of 2016.

 

Augsburg, a member of the MIAC, is located in Minneapolis.

 

O'Connor finished his final year of juniors as one of the top four defenseman for a RoadRunner team that advanced to the NAHL South finals. The 6-3, 180-pounder finished with 7 goals and 14 assists and a plus-minus rating of +11. O'Connor became the seventh RoadRunner this year to commit to an NCAA institution – joining Cam Strong (Dartmouth), Tyler Johnson (Maine), Dominic Lutz (Ferris State), Sami Tavernier (Merrimack), Tyler Hayes (Niagara) and Johnny Walker (Arizona State).

 

"John's presence on the blue line gave us some size and stability," said Topeka head coach Josh Kamrass. "He was as reliable as a coach could ask for, and his endurance spoke for itself. Augsburg is getting a first-class student-athlete."

 

O'Connor was one of two RoadRunners to play in all 60 games during the 2015-16 season.

 

"I feel fortunate to have played for this Topeka organization," said O'Connor. "They do things the right way. From the owners to the coaching staff to my teammates, being first-class meant everything to us."

'RUNNERS ELIMINATED IN DOUBLE OT MARATHON

The longest game in RoadRunner history ended in a disappointing defeat on Monday night, as the Wichita Falls Wildcats seized a 2-1 win in double overtime to clinch the South Division title in three straight games. It's the third consecutive season that Topeka has ended their season with an overtime loss at home. (2015 – Division Finals vs Lone Star, and 2014 – Robertson Cup Semi Finals vs Austin). 

For the third straight game in the series, Topeka got on the board first. Johnny Walker sent a long angled pass off the right wing boards, which was collected by Max Harper in stride. Harper entered the zone, curled, and fired a backhand pass to Marshall Bowery who buried a backhander for the 1-0 lead at 5:48 of the first period. Later in the same frame, a RoadRunner zone clear attempt was held in by Aleksi Poikola who snapped a crossing pass to Austin Beaulieu who buried a crisp shot low on the glove side past a lightly screened Tyler Johnson and at 12:53, the game was tied at a goal apiece.

It stayed that way through the second period, and the third. Penalties were few, and non-existent after the second period. For the RoadRunners, the trip to overtime was their third this postseason, and for the Wildcats, their first. Topeka has won both prior overtime games, and came into the extra session primed and ready.

Topeka’s best push came in the first overtime, as they outshot Wichita Falls 14-9, but the two Division I committed goalies gave no ground, and this game would head to a second overtime for just the second time in the RoadRunners 12 year history.

The RoadRunners appeared to have better jump and momentum as the game moved into its fifth period. That was until a Jeff Baum shot slapped off the glass behind the net and Andre Pison tapped a backhander that crept through the pads of Tyler Johnson, sealing both the game and the series for the Wildcats.

Wichita Falls will advance to the Robertson Cup Tournament in Edina, MN next week with the three other division winners, yet to be determined. Topeka now begins the process of preparing for the 2016-17 season, with their pre-draft camp set for Somerset, WI in three weeks.  

WILDCATS TAKE GAME ONE VICTORY

The Topeka RoadRunners opened the scoring but Wichita Falls rebounded to claim a 3-1 win in Game 1 of the South Division Finals Friday night.

The RoadRunners scored first when Quinn Preston forced a turnover at the Wildcat blue line, then dished it to a streaking Sami Tavernier, who slid it to his left for Andrew Hart. Hart unloaded a heavy snapshot high on the glove side and at 13:05, Topeka led 1-0. The following shift, however, the ‘Cats held an attempted Topeka zone clear and Austin Albrecht found the puck in the slot. He spun, flinging the puck toward the net and it slipped in, tying the game just :24 seconds after Topeka had taken a lead. The period ended with the score tied at 1-1.

The Wildcats have enjoyed great success on the power play against Topeka this season, and the ‘Runners did a great job of staying out of the penalty box. The only penalty incurred by the ‘Runners came at 18:59 of the second period, and they killed it off as the penalty kill spilled over into the third period with the game still tied 1-1.

Wichita Falls took a 2-1 lead with 6:18 left in the game as a soft Jonathan Lazarus shot from the top of the right circle eluded Juho Niku to give the ‘Cats their first lead of the night. Erich Jaegar gave them some breathing room with 4:07 remaining, as Nikita Litviak set him up on the doorstep after winning a puck battle behind the net. Topeka would pull Niku for the extra attacker and generated chances but were unable to close the gap as Wichita Falls held on for the 3-1 win.

The RoadRunners and Wildcats square off in Game 2 on Saturday night. Game 3 is Monday in Topeka, and if necessary, Game 4 will be played Tuesday, also in Topeka. 

SOUTH DIVISION FINALS PREVIEW

SOUTH DIVISION FINALS PREVIEW: TOPEKA vs WICHITA FALLS

By Arch Ecker

The Topeka RoadRunners will skate in the South Division Final for the eighth time in nine seasons since arriving in Kansas. Their opponent will be the South Division Regular Season champion Wichita Falls Wildcats. The best-of-five series begins Friday night in Wichita Falls, TX before heading back to Topeka for Game 3 on Monday and, if necessary, Game 4 on Tuesday. A Game 5 would be played back in Wichita Falls on Saturday, May 7.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Topeka advanced to the South Division Finals by knocking off the #2 seed Lone Star Brahmas 3 games to 1. Lone Star won Game 1 at home, but the ‘Runners took Game 2 in overtime, won Game 3 at home handily and withstood a furious Brahma comeback attempt to win Game 4 at home in overtime. Division champion Wichita Falls fell behind #4 seeded Odessa 3-0 in Game 1 as the Jackalopes erupted for all three goals in the span of 1:20 late in the opening period, but the ‘Cats roared back with 15 unanswered goals over the remainder of the series, sweeping Odessa to advance to the South Division Finals for the first time in franchise history.

HEAD TO HEAD THIS SEASON: The teams met ten times this season, splitting each of the first three weekends. The last two weekends were swept by the Wildcats, both times in Texas.  That leaves the RoadRunners with a 3-7-0 record against the ‘Cats, the first time Wichita Falls has ever taken the season series.

TRY TO SCORE FOUR: In games the RoadRunners put up 4 or more goals, they won each time in games against the Wildcats.  

KINGS OF THE ROAD: The RoadRunners have enjoyed recent postseason success on the road, winning eight of their last ten away from Kansas.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Wichita Falls had the league’s fourth best power play (22.1%) while Topeka’s ranked thirteenth (16.2%). The Wildcats penalty kill was third best at 86.0% and Topeka ranked tenth at 83.1%. Head to head, the ‘Cats power play was overwhelming, going 13 of 38 for a whopping 34.2% with a shorthanded goal, as Topeka managed just 8 for 52 (15.4%) with three shorthanded goals.

SCORE EARLY, SCORE OFTEN: Both teams play much better with a lead, as each club managed just once all season to overcome a deficit when trailing after two periods.  

ONES TO WATCH – TOPEKA: 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 Juho Niku who has played every game in the opening round, and Tyler Johnson (Maine).

ONES TO WATCH – WICHITA FALLS: The Wildcats high octane offense was second highest in the NAHL, led by Austin Albrecht with 60 points, Austin Beaulieu (Alabama-Huntsville) with 49 points, and Jonathan Lazarus with 46 points. Defenseman Jeff Baum added 30 points, and goalie Justin Kapelmaster worked the majority of the games and finished fourth in the NAHL with a goals against average of 2.06.  

FEELIN’ STRONG: The RoadRunners continue 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). He remains with the team

ALL TIME SERIES: The RoadRunners have dominated the Wildcats historically, with a record of 79-30-8 all time (.709). The teams have met in the South Division Semi Finals three times, with Topeka winning 9 of 14 games to take all three series.  

 

‘RUNNERS ELIMINATE BRAHMAS IN OVERTIME

Sixty minutes wasn’t enough to decide Game 4 of this NAHL South Division Semi Final series, and Topeka waited for the final minute of overtime to collect a 5-4 win to clinch the series.

Lone Star opened the scoring when the ‘Runners mishandled a puck at their own goal line, allowing Hogan Davidson a wide open chance for the 1-0 lead at 9:03 of the first period. Topeka answered back quickly, though, as Jack Nickels ripped a shot through a screen fourteen seconds later to tie the game at 1-1, assisted by Marshall Bowery. Just under a minute and a half later, Topeka took the lead as Andrew Hart snapped a heavy wrister over the goalie’s glove hand for a 2-1 lead that remained at the first buzzer.

A Lone Star turnover set up another RoadRunner opportunity, as the Brahmas looked to clear their zone up the middle and the puck was picked off by Johnny Walker who slipped a quick feed to Max Harper, with Harper burying a low shot for a 3-1 lead at 3:27. A Topeka turnover set up a Brahma goal that closed the gap to a single goal as Cody Wickline sent the puck into the slot for Joey Fallon to snap home a one-timer at 11:50. The RoadRunners regained a two-goal cushion when Quinn Preston pounced on an Andrew Hart feed and outraced the Brahma defense, scoring a backhander at 18:05 to restore Topeka’s two goal lead at 4-2.

There are those that call a two goal lead the most dangerous in hockey. That theory played out in the third period as Lone Star erased their deficit to force overtime. Peter Kessel tipped an Alex Berardinelli shot at 13:10 and Tyler Drevitch roofed a shot from close range over a prone Juho Niku with only 1:58 remaining to force the extra session, the second overtime of the series.

The overtime period began cautiously but as time wore on it started to open up with more chances at either end. As the clock wound down to the final minute of overtime, Topeka defenseman Ryan O’Connor knifed end to end for an unassisted blast that squeezed through the five hole and whipped the Expocentre crowd into a frenzy.   

The RoadRunners will advance to face the #1 seed Wichita Falls Wildcats in a best-of-five series beginning next weekend. The game schedule and ticket information will be announced early this coming week. 

‘RUNNERS WIN PIVOTAL GAME THREE

Earning a split in Lone Star in the opening weekend gave Topeka home ice advantage in the series, and they made the most of it Friday night, rolling to a 5-2 win to take a 2 games to 1 lead in the best-of-five Division Semi-Final series.

For the first time in the series, Topeka got on the board first. An aggressive forecheck by Sami Tavernier and Andrew Hart helped set up Quinn Preston, who slid the puck under the pads of Corbin Kaczperski for the 1-0 lead at 6:11 of the opening period. The ‘Runners doubled their lead on a slick goal by Yu Hikosaka, set up on a nice rush with Marshall Bowery and Johnny Walker at 19:14. Topeka led 2-0 at the end of 1.

In the second period, a Ryan O’Connor power play goal at 4:41, assisted by Walker and Tavernier  put Topeka up 3-0 and clearly in the drivers seat. Lone Star caught a spark, though, with Topeka short handed after a too many men on the ice penalty, Peter Kessel had an errant shot deflect off a ‘Runner defender into the net and the Brahmas were on the board with their first power play goal in eight attempts. Thirty seconds later, Tyler Drevitch won a loose puck battle at the side of the Topeka net and jammed it in and suddenly, Topeka’s lead was trimmed to 3-2, and it stayed that way at the end of the second.

Lone Star began the final period on the power play but the RoadRunners killed it off. The game was chippy and rough but almost nothing was being called as the officials opted to let the players battle it out. Topeka got some breathing room at 12:48 when Johnny Walker ripped a shot past the blocker of Kaczperski for a 4-2 lead. The Brahmas pulled the goalie for the extra attacker, and used their time out but JB Baker buried an empty netter at 19:17 to seal the 5-2 win. Juho Niku stopped 23 shots to secure the win.

Topeka will have a chance to close out the series on Saturday at 7:05 pm in Landon Arena. If a Game 5 is required, it will be played Monday night at Lone Star. Saturday’s game will be streamed live online with FASTHockey.com and broadcast in the arena at 88.9 FM. 

In The Community: April 19, 2016

The Runners Stop By North Fairview

 

Cam Strong and Sam Carlson visited North Fairview Elementary Tuesday morning to hand out free kids ticket vouchers for this weekend’s playoff games against the Lone Star Brahmas. The guys hung out at the morning assembly and were treated to the new lunch song and a video that showcased Principal Finnigan’s mad hockey skills. Afterwards, they handed each student a free kids ticket voucher as they headed to class. The RoadRunners take the ice for Game 3 and Game 4 on Friday and Saturday night (7p) on their quest for a Robertson Cup. All tickets to each game are only $5. Fans who purchase a foot long sub at participating Subway locations (29th and California, 29th and Wanamaker, 10th and Gage), receive a free ticket voucher to this weekend’s games. Fans can also find free kids ticket vouchers at Dickey’s BBQ, Dunkin Donuts, Chick-fil-A, Hooters, and Cold Stone Creamery.