February had all the makings to be a brutal month for the Topeka RoadRunners.
But instead of being slowed down by a daunting seven-game, three-week road swing, the Runners came through the month in great position to capture their third South Division regular season title in four seasons.
Topeka coach Scott Langer, whose team posted a 6-1 record during the stretch, said the performance was particularly impressive considering the RoadRunners haven’t had practice ice at home for the past three and a half weeks.
“Anytime you can take on that type of schedule with that lack of ice time at home and then go 6-1, I think any coach in the country would be happy with that,” Langer said.
The Runners have been sharp on the road this season, putting together a record of 18-5-1.
“We just kind of thrive on it,” Langer said. “We truly enjoy the road -- there’s some structure there. We do the same things, we travel the same ways, we eat the same way and we’re always a team. And some of the fans (at away games) really get us going with some of their actions. It’s always fun to win in someone else’s building.”
The RoadRunners will now try to deny Wichita Falls that type of fun feeling when they host the Wildcats at 7:05 p.m. Thursday and Friday in Landon Arena.
Thursday’s game, which was rescheduled from its original date of March 5, will feature $2 tickets, $1 hot dogs and free parking. The logo for the this year’s Robertson Cup tournament, which the RoadRunners will host in May, will also be unveiled.
Topeka (37-9-3) has opened up a 12-point lead in the South Division standings over the second-place Amarillo Bulls, who have three games in hand on the RoadRunners. The Runners currently lead the North American Hockey League in wins, points (77) and winning percentage (.786).
With several of the RoadRunners’ regular season goals now in sight, Langer said he is trying to keep his team focused on the present.
“We want to be able to top the franchise record (44 wins in a season), but we don’t really talk about it, not as a team,” Langer said. “We like to go one game at a time. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. I just think that once you do that you really lose focus on the task at hand.
“There’s a lot of points that separate us from the next guy, but we have a lot of head-to-head games and we have a pretty tough schedule left.”
The RoadRunners are 4-0 this season against Wichita Falls, but the Wildcats played the Runners tough in the teams’ last two meetings, dropping hard-fought games of 4-3 (shootout) and 3-1 in a series at Landon Arena.
“They like to play physical and they’re not afraid to mix it up, based on their games recently,” Langer said of the Wildcats. “They were in our facility last time and even though we won those games, they gave us a lot (of problems) and we had to manage through them. We’re expecting a tough opponent coming into our building.”
Topeka forward Michael Hill leads the team in scoring with 63 points, while the Wildcats are paced offensively by Ryan Frost and his 45 points.
Langer said the RoadRunners recently acquired forward Kyle Buffardi from the Los Angeles Jr. Kings. Buffardi was added to the roster after Pat Conte, a forward with the Buffalo Jr. Sabres of the Ontario Hockey League, was unable to join the Runners due to an error during the transaction process.