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‘RUNNERS SQUANDER LEAD, FALL IN OT

Coming into Friday\’s game against Wichita Falls, all signs were favorable for the RoadRunners. They were 8-1-1 in their last 10, while the Wildcats were 1-8-1 in that same span. Topeka had won both prior meeting between the two teams this season, and were 9-2-1 against Wichita Falls all-time in games played at Landon Arena. Apparently they didn\’t get the memo in Wichita Falls, and they handed the ‘Runners their first home loss on the season, a 7-6 win in overtime.

The ‘Cats came out fairly strong, but Topeka withstood the early pressure and bounced back to score a shorthanded goal at 12:16, set up nicely as Erik Higby chipped the puck past a defender on the left wing, sent a pass to a streaking Bryce Johnson whose shot was denied but produced a nice rebound for Higby to bury for a 1-0 lead. Ryan White lofted a puck off the right wing glass that Martin Sundstedt did a nice job of chasing down before centering to Patrick Kirtland for the score at 16:37, and then Bryce Johnson scored one of his own at 17:11 after an offensive zone faceoff win and a Kevin Ryan assist. Topeka led 3-0 after 1, and scored quickly to start the second, as Nickolas Gatt fired a cross ice diagonal pass to Nate Milam, springing him for a breakaway from the right point and Milam finished it off at the :55 mark, chasing Erick Cinotti in favor of Phillip Graveline. With an early 4-0 lead, the ‘Runners appeared poised to run up the scoreboard as they had in their last home outing (against Albert Lea, a 10-0 victory). 

Depending on what camp you fly your flag in, what happened next may be a subject of debate. If you\’re a Wildcat fan, then the ‘Cats dug deep, challenged themselves, and fought their way back, finding a way to win in a hostile environment. To everyone else, what followed could really be classified as a meltdown. Three Wichita Falls goals in the span on 2:51, each set up by a ghastly defensive zone turnover completely changed the game. Aaron Cramer at 3:33 scoring uncontested on the doorstep. Brian Sheehan at 4:39 on an odd man rush that Cooper Frederick had made the initial save on. Then Kyle Gallegos finding the net for the first time this year at 5:24, making it a 4-3 game. By the time Gallegos tied it up at 18:13, you could almost see it coming.

Starting out the third period, Jeff Burke administered a pounding to Broderick Browne, a fight the players had agreeed to prior to the faceoff. Browne landed two or three punches while Burke landed closer to twenty. The momentum shift was complete when captain Kurtis Anton scored just :26 seconds into the period, his second goal of the season. Wichita Falls Tyler Lundey answered back with a highlight reel goal at 1:01, undressing a ‘Runner defenseman prior to lifting a backhander over the glove hand of Eric Rohrkemper, who had come on in relief of Frederick. At 2:55 Topeka retook the lead when Bryce Johnson\’s aggressive forecheck forced a turnover that Johnson zipped in front to Patrick Kirtland who buried his second of the night.  Topeka led, 6-5.

In a game that had only seen 3 power plays through two periods, suddenly the RoadRunners couldn\’t stay out of the box. At 5:24 it was a 5-on-3 power play that allowed the Wildcats to tie the game at 6-6, as Daniel Gentzler scored his third of the season after misfiring wide multiple times. Neither side could score again in the third, and the game went into sudden death overtime.

Between the two teams, they had gone to overtime 5 times, with each occasion requiring a shootout to decide, and the teams were a combined 1-for-4 in shootouts. On this night, though, on Friday the 13th, it was the Runners whose luck ran out when Gentzler netted his second of the night at 2:15 of the extra session, set up nicely by JT Osborn with a slot crossing pass. The 7-6 Wildcat win ended a 5 game losing streak, and stunned the ‘Runners who had been a perfect 5-0-0 at home.

Topeka (13-3-3) and Wichita Falls (5-10-2) meet again Saturday night at Landon Arena. Topeka gained a point on St. Louis, who lost at Springfield 4-2. Topeka leads St. Louis by 4 points though the Bandits have 2 games in hand.