No place like home for RoadRunners
The complete NAHL Weekly Release for 10/2/2007 is available here (.pdf)
Hockey returned to Topeka, Kan., for the first time in two years last weekend in the form of the RoadRunners, and the NAHL club didn't disappoint the locals in attendance with a pair of wins over the Alaska Avalanche.
"For the fans in the building, they were happy to see a team that was hard-working, able to score goals and that plays with a bit of a chip on their shoulder," said RoadRunners coach-GM Scott Langer. "The wins will go further for us in reaching the fans that weren't at the game and missed out on the experience. Word is already spreading like wildfire."
On Friday, Corey Jendras struck for two goals and an assist as the RoadRunners skated to a 5-1 victory. John Stoddard netted the game-winner, while goaltender Bryce Merriam turned aside 13 shots.
The next night, Topeka edged the Avs in a shootout, 3-2. Eric Artman and Jendras scored in regulation for the RoadRunners, and Merriam made 14 saves.
"There was clearly a sense of electricity in the air," said Langer. "Fans seemed pretty well seasoned with chants, rituals and taunts. They arrived early, bought up piles of merchandise and were extremely vocal in their support."
The RoadRunners drew over 1,700 in attendance on opening night and more than 1,300 on Saturday. Night and day from their dismal 392 average last season in Santa Fe.
"We're fortunate that a lot of fans here in Topeka have already been exposed to hockey, so what was most important for us was to be able to show what a high level of hockey the NAHL has to offer and to banish the misconception that since the players aren't pro, they must somehow be inferior."
Mission accomplished, as the RoadRunners, who opened the season with a 2-1-1 record at the NAHL Showcase Tournament, settled into their new and - at times - intimidating surroundings in short time.
"Some of the players had never played in front of a crowd that size, and some of the veterans were in awe of the amount of support," said Langer. "Nerves may have been a factor early in the game on opening night, but that quickly converted into energy."
Jendras couldn't have asked for a better start to his second NAHL season. The 20-year-old from Abingdon, Md., already has seven goals for 12 points in his first six games.
"Corey is natural goal-scorer," said Langer. "He has truly developed into a big-time scoring threat."
It hasn't taken long for Artman, a first-year defenseman, to earn the praise and respect from his teammates ("He's playing like a veteran," according to Langer), while skilled, puck-handing forward Reed Seckel has also shown a penchant for playing the body.
First-year forward Matt Hartmann and veteran frontman Joe Harren have also impressed in the early goings for Topeka.
"The team has a tremendous work ethic and we've been getting contributions from both the veterans and the rookies," said Langer.
Encouraged with the start of their season, both on the ice and at the gate, the RoadRunners are excited with the prospects of what's to come.
"The players are our greatest asset," said Langer. "The more we keep them in the eyes of the public, the better success we'll have from a marketing standpoint.
"On the ice, we need to continue to work hard in practice and execute during the games."