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SWANK RETURNS TO ALUMNI

by Arch Ecker

     It was the shot heard ‘round the world. Heard around the junior hockey world, to be sure. When Randy Swank hit the back of net in overtime in Game 5 of the NAHL South Division Finals in April 2008, the roar from the Expocentre reverberated across the country. Last September, he scored the only goal of the game as the Alumni won the Inaugural Alumni Game 1-0. Now, this weekend, Swank returns to the Kansas Expocentre for the Second Annual Alumni Game.

     Swank, a native of Nuevo, CA got into hockey for a different reason than most. “I got into hockey as a kid because I wanted to do something that not everyone was doing. I started playing roller hockey and after a couple years of that I switched to ice.” After a stint with Team Illinois Midget AAA U18, he joined the Santa Fe RoadRunners in 2006, and immediately found himself getting a solid share of ice time on a team that set a franchise record for wins with 41. He played in 56 games and contributed 14 points and became known as a sure-handed blueliner who handled himself well.

     When the team relocated to Topeka, Swank was one of ten other players who made the move as well. “Making the transition from Santa Fe to Topeka was a little weird at first but unbelievable at the same time”, he said. “We were not used to playing in front of so many fans and friends. It was almost overwhelming coming from a place where hardly anyone knew who you were to being like mini celebrities and being on TV all the time.” He missed a big chunk of that season with a knee injury and subsequent surgery that healed quicker than anticipated. And it was near the end of that first season in Topeka that Randy Swank scored the biggest goal in franchise history. Naturally, he recalls the sequence vividly.

     “I remember something I said right before I went on the ice to my defense partner Aaron Gens. I looked at him right before overtime started and I said "I feel it… I’m going to get this one. I already have one, I might as well make it two!" For some reason that season I tended to score 2 goals a game not just one. So on the faceoff we lined up on off sides just in case the puck jumped up, I could either take a quick shot or pass to him for a one timer. Sure enough, Kamrass won the draw and Seckel sent it back to me and I aimed for the low outside corner. The next thing I know 23 guys were on top of me including a few shirtless fans. It was unreal. There are no words I could use to describe the emotions that went on, it was a once in a lifetime moment.” Not just for Swank, but for the entire RoadRunner nation, who at long last had a Division Title.

     Call it beauty, or cruelty, but it is the nature of the sport that victories as well as defeats melt away in the hot summer sun and in the blink of an eye, the new season beckons. Returning to Topeka for his third campaign with the ‘Runners, he reflected on his relationship with head coach Scott Langer. “Langer was a great coach over the three years I had with him. He not only was a coach, but he was someone we could talk to as well, which is hard to find in a coach. He has a passion for winning and wants every player to get to the next level. I feel very fortunate to have played for him for so long.” That season Swank’s production increased to 19 points overall and he missed just one game, and that was because he had traveled to Ann Arbor to play in the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament. The team was eliminated 3 games to one in the South Division Finals, and Randy’s junior career drew to a close.

     Since leaving Topeka, he has returned home to California where he is working and going to school. He is thrilled to be participating in his second Alumni Game. “I’m excited to be coming back to Topeka and see some of the friendly faces and some new ones.”

     The Alumni Game is set for Sunday at 12:00 noon and will be webcast through www.countrylegends1069fm.com.