What a difference a year makes.
One year to the day. April 24, 2009 was Game 4 of 2009 NAHL South Division Finals between the RoadRunners and Bandits. Last year, St. Louis finished 2 points ahead of Topeka and held home ice advantage. After winning both games in St. Louis, the Bandits lost Game 3 in double overtime, 1-0. Game 4 was scoreless until the final minute of the second period, when St. Louis scored twice within :49 seconds to take a 2-0 lead. Late in the third Topeka cut the lead in half but a furious flurry with a power play and extra skater was weathered by the Bandits and the \’Runners season came to a disappointingly early conclusion.
That was last year.
On April 24, 2010, after Topeka finished the regular season 2 points ahead of St. Louis, the \’Runners and Bandits met again in a Game 4 with Topeka down 2 games to 1 and facing elimination, this time at the Hardee\’s Iceplex in Chesterfield, MO. St. Louis had cruised to a 4-1 win on Friday, and with a 4th consecutive trip to the Robertson Cup Tournament in their sights, came out sharp against a determined and refocused RoadRunner team that showed none of the weaknesses that had plagued them the night before. Both goaltenders played well behind defenses that battled hard in front of them, and a penalty-laden first period ended still scoreless. Topeka had to kill off two 5-on-3 penalties and did so impressively.
In the second period, penalties all but disappeared, with only one power play occurring but not scored on, and after two periods of play the two South Division powerhouses remained scoreless.
In the third period, it was special teams that decided the outcome. A blocked shot by Bryce Johnson on the penalty kill popped out of the zone and Johnson himself chased it down on a breakaway. The righthanders backhand attempt was thwarted by Tyler Bruggeman, but driving the net just behind the play was Tony Thomas who gathered the rebound and spinning around, backhanded it into the net for a 1-0 Topeka lead at 5:12. St. Louis would tie it up at 12:50 on the power play, when a Brooks Bertsch shot went off a shoulder in front of Eric Rohrkemper into the net. The tie was broken less than a minute later, though, with Bryce Johnson scoring at 13:41 set up nicely by Alec Hagaman and Justin Kovacs. With a precarious one goal lead, Topeka again had to kill off a penalty, which they did. When Tyler Bruggeman fired a puck over the glass at 16:34, the \’Runners had a power play that they cashed in when Tony Thomas snapped home a pass from Justin Kovacs and Bryce Johnson with 1:47 to play. Alec Hagaman added an empty netter to seal the 4-1 win and send the series back to Topeka.
The series will conclude Monday night, April 26 at Landon Arena. Game time is 7:05. The winner will play in the Robertson Cup Tournament in Wenatchee, WA beginning May 4.