In a game where the Topeka RoadRunners did a lot of things right, they still found themselves staring defeat square in the eye in the final minutes of Thursday\’s NAHL matchup at Landon Arena. But the RoadRunners have a lot of fight in them, and needed every last ounce of it to pull out a 5-4 overtime win over the visiting Owatonna Express.
Topeka got off to a good start, scoring a powerplay goal just 1:17 into the game, the eighth of the year for Michael Hill. Yet, as often can be the case, an ill-timed turnover sent Owatonna\’s Dan Cecka on a breakaway which he scored on with a low blocker side wrister at 7:32 to tie the game. The first period ended 1-1, with Topeka outshooting the Express, 10-6.
The intermission locker room must have been a dandy, as the ‘Runners responded by outshooting the Express 28-8, and retaking the lead just 1:50 into the period as Tony Thomas redirected a Jacob Poe shot through the leg pads of Mike Shibrowski, who was peppered all night. Owatonna bounced back, and bounced hard. Cory Thorson tied the game at 2-2 when Evan Karambelas was caught out of the net at 9:50, fed easily by Zach Vierling from the right wing boards. Then :46 seconds later Brian McGinty put in a rebound up high as the Express swarmed the crease. Owatonna was being outshot and outpressured and outchanced, but led 3-2 until late in the second.
\”Some nights, you gotta do it ugly.\” The quote may be a paraphrase, but Thursday was that kind of night. The ‘Runners tied it up at 16:42 of the second period when Erik Higby and Michael Hill tenaciously pressured the goalies left side of the net, popping the puck across to Tony Thomas who scored while laid out flat on his belly. His fourth goal of the year and second of the night tied the game at 3-3 after 2 periods.
In the third period, It was Owatonna who struck early, with Chris Darnell scoring a powerplay goal at 1:39 for a 4-3 Express lead. Topeka had a golden opportunity midway through the frame when they had a 5-on-3 powerplay for 1:03, but could not score. It was the second 5-on-3 killed off by Owatonna, the first coming in the second period and lasting almost exactly as long.
The cards seemed to be stacked against the ‘Runners when with 1:30 to play, Edgars Lipsbergs was whistled for goalie interference. Trailing by a goal and shorthanded, the odds were not in Topeka\’s favor. Then, 25 seconds later, Owatonna\’s Jacob Sloat had no choice but to trip a charging Tony Thomas and went to the box at 18:53, setting up a 4-on-4 with 1:07 to play. The ‘Runners wisely spent their timeout, and then went to work. With goalie Evan Karambelas pulled for the extra attacker and the ‘Runners net empty, Topeka had a 5-on-4 skater advantage. The ‘Runners used a lethal combo of cycling skill,. puckhandling and grit and will to set up the game tying goal with 17.9 seconds remaining, netted by Erik Higby. The game would go to overtime tied at 4-4.
With penalties carrying over from the third period, the OT session began with teams at 3 skaters aside. Topeka had a nominal :23 second powerplay but nothing sufficient to establish an attack. With teams back at 4-on-4 even strength, Bryce Johnson put on a stickhandling clinic in the offensive zone, maintaining pressure with a couple of Express defensemen trying to separate him from the puck. His efforts got the puck out in front for Edgars Lipsbergs who slammed it home to cement the come-from-behind 5-4 overtime victory.
Topeka (19-5-3) faces Owatonna (15-8-2) twice more this weekend, and will make a trip to Minnesota for a pair of games in February. Game times this Friday and Saturday night are 7:05 pm.
· For the first time this season, the RoadRunners post a win in a game in which they allowed over 3 goals.
· Justin Kochan made his long awaited return to the ice, his first game since Sept.19. He had no points, an even plus/minus, 2 penalty minutes and three shots.
· Topeka is now 9-0-1 at Landon Arena this season. Last year, the ‘Runners were 19-5-3 on home ice.
· Topeka and Owatonna put up a combined 104 PIM\’s Thursday night. Their combined season average is closer to 43 PIMs per game.
· The Runners were without Cole Schneider and Ryan White Thursday night. Together, they account for over 17% of the teams offense.