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South Report: Despite being on top, Topeka still looking up

February 16, 2011
by Alex Kyrias | NAHL.com

Merrimack recruit Justin Hussar will participate in next week's NAHL Top Prospects Tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich.

With just nine losses in regulation so far this season, life would seem easy for the North American Hockey League’s (NAHL) top team, the Topeka Roadrunners. But, according to head coach Scott Langer, it’s been anything but that. 

“We’re always trying to get better as a team, which is why it’s tough to be satisfied,” said Langer.

Langer does point out that the remaining stretch of games will put the RoadRunners to the test heading into the 2011 Robertson Cup Playoffs. 

“You look at our remaining games and they’re against teams with winning records and teams that we could potentially see in the playoffs down the road, so there is a lot left to accomplish,” said the coach. “Our team and our players feel like there’s something to prove, so there’s no letting off the gas just because we are where we are in the standings.”

Topeka’s rise to the top is nothing new to their NAHL opponents. Since their move from Santa Fe to Topeka in 2007, the RoadRunners have won two division titles in three seasons and are poised for a third this season, with a league-high 33 wins already under their belt.

In that three-year time frame, the RoadRunners have an average of just over 41 wins a season. Topeka will host the 2011 Robertson Cup Championship in May, which is why it would come as no surprise to anyone if this year’s club was finally able to achieve the ultimate goal.
 
The Roadrunners have been so good in fact that their first regulation loss in 2011 came in a 1-0 defeat last Friday night in New Mexico against the Mustangs. 

“Our guys took that loss to heart,” said Langer. “They thought they played well and we just got beat by a hot goaltender. It showed as much about our team when we lost that game than any win we’ve had. You could tell they didn’t like and it will force them to work that much harder.”

The word “family” comes up a lot when Langer discusses this year’s group of RoadRunners. 

“That’s the atmosphere we have created here,” he said. “I’s a group of guys that’s dedicated to a common goal. They are coachable, willing to learn and they know how to get through adversity.” 

Langer said it’s one the reasons he feels so proud to be coaching the South team at next week’s NAHL Top Prospects event. 

“It’s always an honor to coach in something like the Top Prospects event, but, to be honest, it’s the hard work of the players that gets you there,” he said. “I’m just excited to be coaching a talented group of kids in an event that’s great exposure for our league.”

Perhaps no player on the Roadrunners roster better personifies the feeling of family and commitment better than third-year defenseman Jacob Poe, who recently announced his commitment to the University of Connecticut.

The 20-year-old is a player who’s been a rock for Langer’s RoadRunners. 

“To see him walk into my office with that smile on his face, knowing he just committed to a quality university makes it all worthwhile for me,” said Langer.  “Jacob is a player who we rely on each and every game to play the most shifts with the most ice time, so for him to come right out of Midget hockey and develop like he has is a true success story for this organization and one that every NAHL player dreams of.”

SOUTH DIVISION NOTEBOOK

AMARILLO BULLS: In taking five of six points in their three games last weekend, the Amarillo Bulls made history in becoming the first of the expansion teams this season to secure a spot in the 2011 Robertson Cup Playoffs. During their two-game series at Wichita Falls on Wednesday and Friday, the Bulls split with the Wildcats. After a 4-3 overtime loss Wednesday, the Bulls rebounded with a 2-1 win. Goals from Cody Freeman and Zack Smoot were enough for the Bulls as goaltender Nikifor Szczerba made 24 saves in the win. On Saturday, the Bulls needed an overtime goal from Michael Erickson to defeat the Texas Tornado, 3-2. The win pulled the Bulls into a second-place tie with Texas, both with 60 points. The Bulls have the weekend off before returning to action for three games in three nights beginning on Feb. 24.

CORPUS CHRISTI ICERAYS:
The IceRays were swept by the Texas Tornado at home last weekend, but managed to pick up a point in a 4-3 overtime loss on Friday, which was also the IceRays’ Pink in the Rink night, and, true to form, the team and its fans didn’t disappoint. In all, the IceRays donated $24,250 to the American Cancer Society. With this year’s totals, Corpus Christi has now donated an average of $36,000 yearly in support of breast cancer research and awareness. During the postgame jersey auction, forward Brandon Marshall’s jersey was the most coveted, going for $1,900.  Marshall also scored in the overtime loss against the Tornado and defenseman Jason Souva added the other two goals. After a weekend off, the IceRays return to action in Amarillo on Feb. 25-26.

NEW MEXICO MUSTANGS: New Mexico managed to topple the first-place Topeka RoadRunners in one of three games at home last weekend. On Thursday, the Mustangs kept the game close thanks to a pair of assists from Evan Johnston, but four third-period goals by the ‘Runners helped them on the way to a 6-3 win. On Friday, the Mustangs got 33 saves from Marco Wieser and the game-winning goal from Brad Wilhelm as they blanked Topeka, 1-0. On Saturday, goals from James Poston and Charles Baldwin weren’t quite enough as the Mustangs were edged by the RoadRunners, 5-2. The Mustangs are just eight points out of fifth place in the South Division with 12 games remaining. After taking this weekend off, the Mustangs return to action on Feb. 24 in a home game against Amarillo.

TEXAS TORNADO: After taking five out of six possible points last weekend, the Texas Tornado finds itself again deadlocked with Amarillo for second place in the South Division, both with 60 points. However, thanks to the wins against Corpus Christi and overtime loss against the Bulls, the Tornado managed to secure a playoff berth for the 11th consecutive season. South Division Player of the Week Nate Sliwinski had four points during the three games, as did newly acquired defenseman Walker Hyland. Texas Tornado forward Justin Jones scored his second goal in as many games as he lit the lamp just 12 seconds in Friday’s 4-3 overtime win in Corpus Christi. The Tornado heads to Wichita Falls for two games this weekend on Feb. 18-19.  

WICHITA FALLS WILCATS: The Wildcats split with the visiting Amarillo Bulls last weekend and maintain a firm hold on the fourth and final playoff spot in the South Division, nine points ahead of Corpus Christi. On Wednesday, the Wildcats scored the final three goals of the game as they came from behind to defeat the Bulls in overtime, 4-3. Ryan Frost had two goals and Tanner Fahlstedt scored the overtime winner. Leading goal-scorer Dakota Klecha also had a goal, extending his goal-scoring streak to six straight games. On Friday, a power-play goal from Nick Marsh and 31 saves from Tyler Green wasn’t enough for the ‘Cats, as they fell to the Bulls, 2-1, in a game that saw a combined 183 minutes in penalties. The Wildcats prepare to host the Texas Tornado for the final time this season this weekend.  

 
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