With the Topeka RoadRunners’ playoff picture already settled, this week’s pair of games with the Amarillo Bulls may not be considered “must win” games for the Runners.
But after being swept at home by the St. Louis Bandits last weekend, the Runners shouldn’t be lacking for inspiration when they close out the regular season against the Bulls today and Thursday at 7:05 p.m. in Landon Arena.
The Runners, who have already locked up the North American Hockey League’s South Division regular season title and home ice advantage in the playoffs, will try to regain some of the swagger that made them the hottest team in the league before the Bandits came into town.
“We shouldn’t need any more motivation than being swept at home,” RoadRunners coach Scott Langer said. “It doesn’t happen very often here in Topeka, and I think our guys are a little embarrassed.”
Topeka (42-11-3) saw a 10-game winning streak snapped by St. Louis last Friday with a 3-2 loss. The RoadRunners, who were without Michael Hill, Joe Van Antwerp and Andrew O’Leary, were unable to bounce back the following night, dropping a 5-1 decision. Meanwhile, Amarillo split a pair last weekend, beating Corpus Christi 3-2 Saturday before getting blitzed 10-3 by the IceRays on Sunday night.
The Runners are 5-4-1 on the season against Amarillo. Topeka swept the Bulls earlier this month with wins of 7-4 and 5-3 in a feisty series in Amarillo. The teams combined for six ejections and 202 penalty minutes in the first of two contests.
Both teams will have something on the line this week. Amarillo is trying to hold off the Texas Tornado for the second seed in the South Division playoffs. The Tornado and Bulls are tied for the second spot at 76 points with Amarillo having two games in hand.
Likewise, the RoadRunners need just one point to clinch the NAHL regular season championship, which is awarded to the team with the most points in the league.
“That’s something we haven’t achieved yet in Topeka or franchise history,” Langer said of the NAHL regular season title. “It would certainly be nice to find that point and clinch that.”
Hill leads the Runners in scoring with 66 points while Justin Hussar has 65. The Bulls are paced offensively by Zack Smoot with 59 points.
It has already been determined the Runners will face the Wichita Falls Wildcats in the first round of the South Division playoffs. No matter what the RoadRunners do in the playoffs, they have a spot in the Robertson Cup by virtue of being the host team of the tournament.