The Topeka RoadRunners traveled all the way to Atlanta for training camp this preseason because the Kansas Expocentre was booked and they needed some ice.
Then, only two of the team’s first 12 games were played at home, so the RoadRunners could be excused for being unfamiliar with their digs.
After an uncharacteristic 1-2-1 start at the Expo this 2010-11 season, Topeka, which is breaking in several new faces, is finally settling in.
The RoadRunners began their six-game homestand - Topeka’s longest stretch at the Kansas Expo until late January - with a two-game sweep over New Mexico.
Topeka boasted an impressive 22-3-2 home record during the division-winning 2009-10 campaign, but RoadRunners head coach Scott Langer wasn’t surprised by the team’s slow home start this year.
“We have so many new players this year, they didn’t now what it was like to play at home,” Langer said.
One newcomer who’s come on strong has been forward Brian Christie. The West Chester, Pa., native has scored four goals in the last three games after totaling three in his first 15 games.
“He’s a 1992-born who’s filled with potential,” Langer said. “He has great puck control and can put the puck in the back of the net.”
Jordan Davis, another forward new to the RoadRunners this season, leads the team with 15 assists, including 10 on the power play.
Those two have added scoring depth behind University of Alaska-Fairbanks recruit Michael Hill, who leads the team with 29 points and owns a league-best eight power-play markers.
Although it was a tough schedule early on, Langer believes it made his inexperienced team better.
“I’m glad to get some of that out of the way early,” Langer said of all the road games.
Topeka’s next four home games won’t be easy. Division-leading Texas is headed to town this weekend. Then Amarillo, which is currently 12-3-1, makes a visit the weekend after Thanksgiving.
Both are teams the fourth-place RoadRunners are chasing in the competitive South Division.
“We have a solid fan base, and the crowd gets behind us. It’s a fun place to play,” Langer said. “Our guys aim to please the home crowd.”
With two more weekends at the Kansas Expo and another four-game home stretch at the end of December, the RoadRunners will get plenty of chances to do just that.
SOUTH DIVISION NOTEBOOK
AMARILLO BULLS: After going seven straight games (and more than 50 chances) without a power-play goal, Ricky DeRosa scored twice with the man-advantage nine seconds apart in Saturday’s 6-3 win over Wichita Falls. DeRosa scored four times in the game, earning South Player of the Week honors.
CORPUS CHRSTI ICERAYS: Goaltender Pheonix Copley made 36 saves Friday in a losing effort against the Tornado. In his last four games, he’s averaging 38.3 saves but is only 1-3 in those outings.
NEW MEXICO MUSTANGS: Ian McGilvrey is beginning to make an impact with the Mustangs. Acquired from Janesville earlier this season, he has a point in three straight games after only registering one in the first seven contests with his new team.
TEXAS TORNADO: The Tornado outscored Corpus Christi 10-1 in another weekend sweep, and goalie Jake Stafford posted his second straight shutout. A crowd of 3,750 - the most for a Tornado home game since March 31, 2007 - witnessed the team’s 14th straight win on Saturday. That streak is the third longest in team history.
WICHITA FALLS WILDCATS: The Wildcats’ second line and second power-play units have come on strong. Dakota Klecha, Tanner Fahlstedt, Drew Allen and Mikhail Sentyurin, who replaces Allen on the power play, have scored five of the team’s last nine goals.