On Saturday night in Wichita Falls, the hometown Wildcats and Topeka RoadRunners treated fans to a literal slugfest, with three fights and a combined 13 goals, with Topeka prevailing 8-5 in the Wildcats final game of a disappointing season.
It was \”Parents Weekend\” at Kay Yeager Coliseum, and the Wildcat players parents and billets were acknowledged before the opening faceoff. They scarcely had time to navigate their way to their seats before Michael Hill snapped in a shot off the glove of P.J. Musico for a 1-0 lead just :05 seconds into the game, the quickest goal to start a game in franchise history. Erik Higby got the assist, winning the opening draw. When the Wildcats answered by scoring on THEIR first shot of the game, a rebound netted by Daniel Gentzler at 1:13, it was clear that this would be a wide open night with no shortage of offense. The \’Runners retook the lead at 4:38 when Justin Kovacs was sprung on a breakaway after two crisp passes from Hill and Higby and his five-hole offering crept through Musico\’s pads and across the line in agonizingly slow fashion for the Wildcat faithful but unbeknownst to Musico. A couple of quick penalties afforded the \’Runners a 5-on-3 power play which Cole Schneider scored on at 6:24, a sharp wrister beating Musico on the glove side mid-height. Schneider potted his second of the evening swatting home a rebound at 10:49 for a 4-1 \’Runner lead. The Wildcats answered quickly after a flubbed clearing attempt by Topeka came to Gentzler on the right wing boards. His shot toward the net was beautifully redirected over the shoulder of Evan Karambelas by J.T. Osborn to close the gap to 4-2 at 11:26. Two first period fights also punctuated the evening, the first a very quick tilt as Justin Kochan launched himself at Tyler Briola and later Tony Thomas squared off with Broderick Browne. Also in a very busy first period, Daniel Gentzler was caught leading with the elbow as he flagrantly plowed Michael Hill from behind, drawing a 5:00 minute major penalty and a game ejection. Topeka outshot the \’Cats 17-9 in the wild frame, and led 4-2.
In the second period, the momentum would shift to the home team, but not before Michael Hill buried his second of the evening at 2:12 on a 5-on-3 power play, part of which was from the hit leveled on Hill. With a 5-2 lead, Topeka again fell victim to some poor decision making and costly turnovers, which the Wildcats were more than happy to capitalize on. At 5:51, Jason McAloon blasted a slapshot \”bar down\” on a rebound after a 3-on-1 break caused by a turnover, and then at 13:46 Brian Sheehan picked the top corner glove side from the left wing to draw within a goal at 5-4. Sheehan\’s goal prompted the \’Runners to substitute Eric Rohrkemper for Karambelas in net. Rohrkemper turned aside the 3 shots he faced, and Karambelas started the third period with a 5-4 lead.
With the gravity of the final stanza reiterated to the \’Runners during intermission, they responded by scoring a power play goal in the first minute. Chris Leone was in the box for hooking, having no other option to slow a racing Erik Higby just :17 seconds into the period, and at the 0:56 second mark Alec Hagaman buried his 5th goal in the last 5 games to give Topeka an ounce of breathing room. At 4:02, Topeka scored their 12th shorthanded goal of the year and third of the weekend when Cole Schneider chased his own rebound into the corner, then shot the puck off the back of Musico\’s leg into the net for a 7-4 lead, registering the hat trick. At 4:39, the \’Cats quickly responded as Broderick Browne picked the top corner to make it a 7-5 game. Leaving nothing to chance, Topeka put the game away as Michael Hill got the last word on his former team, scoring his 27th of the year and third of the game at 12:59 for the final 8-5 margin.
Topeka (42-9-5) heads home for their final two games of the regular season, to be played Wednesday and Thursday against the Springfield Jr. Blues (21-27-8). The RoadRunners are 7-2-1 vs Springfield this season, 3-1-0 at home. The Jr. Blues are locked into a fourth place finish, and will face the South\’s number one seed in the Semi-Final round. Topeka\’s Magic Number to lock down that number one seed is now 3. The games will be broadcast live locally on ESPN 1490 KTOP, inside Landon Arena on 88.9 FM, and webcast online at www.b2livetv.com.
- The RoadRunners have tied the franchise record for wins (42) and points (89). They have already set a new record for most goals scored in a season (243) and best road record (21-5-3).
- Topeka\’s goal differential (+101) is the best in the NAHL. Topeka also leads the league in powerplay goals (79).
- Forward Alec Hagaman scored the game winning goal in both games this weekend, bringing his career total to 12. The franchise record for a career was 10, held by Corey Stark. The single season record is 7, shared by Hagaman, Stark, Tibor Kutalek and Eriah Hayes. (Michael Hill has 6 GWG\’s this season with two games left to play.) Hagaman has also scored a goal in each of his last 5 games, one game shy of the leagues high water mark for the year shared in part by teammates Michael Hill and Erik Higby, each with 7 goals in a 6 game consecutive run.
- Forward Erik Higby returned to the lineup after a single game league imposed suspension, posting 4 assists on Saturday night.
- Higby\’s assault on the RoadRunners record book includes most points in a season (78), formerly held by Tibor Kutalek (76). It includes most assists in a single season (52) formerly held by Aaron Gens (46).
- Thursday\’s game against Springfield will be the largest crowd ever to watch a RoadRunner game. The largest crowd ever was 4,219 on Nov.20, 2004 in Frisco, TX. The largest home crowd to date was 3,333 on March 6, 2010. At press time, over 6,000 tickets are out for Thursday\’s regular season finale.