Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
Winners of four in a row, including three last week over the Kenai River Brown Bears, the Topeka RoadRunners are not to be forgotten in the race for first in the NAHL’s South Division.
“Those wins have given us an opportunity to stay in the mix for the top spot,” said RoadRunners coach-GM Scott Langer, whose team improved to 20-8-6 on the season. “But we know we have a lot of work to do with the teams ahead of us (Wichita Falls and Fairbanks) playing real solid hockey.”
Topeka opened its week with a 5-1 victory over the Brown Bears on Wednesday. Corey Jendras tallied two goals, including the game-winner, and an assist, while Reed Seckel added a goal and two assists of his own. Between the pipes, goaltender Bryce Merriam turned aside 11 shots.
On Friday, Josh Kamrass connected for a goal and two assists, including one on Randy Swank’s game-winner, as the Roadrunners skated to a 5-2 win. Seckel notched a goal and an assist, while netminder Lyle Rocker made 20 saves.
Eriah Hayes unleashed for a hat trick and two assists as Topeka celebrated a 10-2 victory over Kenai River on Saturday. Steve Shafer added four assists, and Merriam stopped 13 shots to pick up his second win of the week.
In all, 10 different players lit the lamp for Topeka in the three-game sweep.
“When we play well, we get balanced scoring,” said Langer. “As of late, we’ve had trouble putting pucks in the back of the net. We need to use this series to reestablish our confidence and continue to score.”
In addition to Kamrass, who fashioned an eight-point weekend, Jendras and Seckel also made their presence felt offensively, scoring seven points apiece.
“Both of those guys have been solid all year,” said Langer. “They’re persistent with their play and have a very disciplined and professional approach to their games.”
Hayes’ six points also drew praise from Langer, as did the efforts of 18-year-olds Shafer and Eric Artman, who tallied three assists in Saturday’s win.
“The younger players are coming into their own making us a deeper, more balanced team,” said Langer.
And don’t forget about the goaltending, where both Merriam and Rocker have delivered dependable performances on a nightly basis.
“Our team defense has been pretty solid all year, and our goaltending has given us a chance to win just about every night,” said Langer. “When your No. 2 goalie (Rocker) is 6-0, you're in good shape.”
With a 14-3-3 mark in their last 20 games, the RoadRunners have no complaints heading into February. They also have seven games in hand over division frontrunners Wichita Falls and two over second-place Fairbanks.
“We need to continue to play disciplined defense and get timely scoring across the board,” said Langer. “We’re not a one- or two-line team; we rely on our depth every night and, for us to be successful, we need everyone to be mentally and physical prepared.”
With three players’ college plans already made – Artman (Air Force), Aaron Gens (Alaska-Fairbanks) and Jendras (University of Connecticut) – Langer expects more to follow with a strong push towards the playoffs.
“We’ve had a lot of interest,” said Langer. “We feel we have a lot of players that will
show down the stretch that they’re worthy of college attention.”
Off the ice, the RoadRunners are silencing the critics with steady attendance figures and community support. Saturday’s crowd of over 2,300 was the second largest of the season for Topeka for a game without a headlining promotion.
“As the community interacts with our players, they become more and more attached,” said RoadRunners director of media and broadcasting Arch Ecker. “With three teams pulling out of Topeka in the past, people were a bit cautious in the beginning, but the fever is spreading through all demographics.
“We have a solid young fan base as well, so it can only grow. We're thrilled, actually, with the energy we get from our fans at home.”
And the team expects that enthusiasm to continue as it focuses on a South Division championship.
“We have so many games in so many nights, we need to take care of our bodies,” said Langer. “We have very little preparation time, so when we’re together we need to be a very focused group.
“With the amount of turnover we had from last year (the RoadRunners held over only nine players from the 2006-07 roster), we’re very happy with the position we're in.”
AROUND THE NAHL
BLAKEY TO MERCYHURST: First-year Mahoning Valley forward Grant Blakey, 18, has committed to Mercyhurst College (Atlantic Hockey) for the 2010-11 season. The Canton, Mich., native has 15 goals for 31 points after 29 games this year.
CARDWELL BOUND FOR UAF: Third-year Wichita Falls forward Adam Cardwell, 20, has committed to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks for next season. This year, the Long Beach, Calif., native leads the NAHL in scoring with 68 points (25 goals) after 39 games.
STAR POWER: Dallas Stars draft pick Sergei Korostin, 18, impressed in his first full weekend with Texas, scoring three goals and two assists in three Tornado wins over Alaska. The Russian, who was playing for Moscow Dynamo, was also a plus-6.
SIMS COPS HOCKEY EAST HONOR: Providence College senior goaltender Tyler Sims (Mahoning Valley, 2003-04 was named Hockey East Player of the Week after backstopping the Friars to a pair of victories over Northeastern last weekend.
GOEBEL TABBED FOR CCHA HONOR: Ohio State University senior forward Tommy Goebel (Cleveland Jr. Barons, 2000-03) was named the CCHA Offensive Player of the Week after posting four goals and five points in the Buckeyes’ two-game split with Lake Superior State.
GRAVES 'DIGGER: Alpena continues its surge behind the goaltending of Nick Graves, 19, who backstopped the IceDiggers to two more wins last weekend, including a 25-save shutout of Marquette on Saturday (4-0). "Every time Nick plays, as a team, we feel we have a chance to win,” said IceDiggers coach-GM Kenny Miller.
KAVAYA IN THE CLUTCH: Fairbanks defenseman P.J. Kavaya, 21, keyed the IceDogs’ 4-3, come-from-behind overtime win over Wichita Falls on Saturday, scoring two goals, including the OT game-winner. “P.J. has been a big key to our success this season,” said Ice Dogs assistant coach Josh Hauge. “He continues to get better and will be a big part in how far we can go as a team.”
JOHNNY BE GOOD: Despite two losses at the hands of St. Louis last weekend, Mahoning Valley forward Johnny Meo, 19, tallied two goals and two assists. "Johnny was one of the bright spots on the weekend," said Phantoms coach-GM Bob Mainhardt. "We've had him switch roles and move into different positions and he always gives a 100 percent effort and puts everything he has into every game."
OKLAND STANDS TALL: With only four goals to work with last weekend, Fargo-Moorhead goaltender Elliot Okland, 20, steered aside 54 of 60 shots as the Jets fell to Alexandria and Bismarck. “He’s come on strong as of late and, if we make the playoffs, it will be on his shoulders without a shadow of a doubt," said Jets assistant coachAaron Kinslow.
JETS ADD PAIR: Fargo-Moorhead acquired forward Kurt Weston, 19, from Kenai River and added defenseman Mason Swenson, 19, who was attending Colorado State University.
BUSSELL AS USUAL: Marquette forward Josh Bussell, 19, rang up three goals and two assists in the three games last week as the Rangers went 1-1-1. “Josh continues to put up points for us,” said Rangers coach Randy Enders. “He works hard in the corners and has a nose for the net.”