After Wednesday’s night loss to Amarillo, a frustrated Scott Langer left Landon Arena without even addressing his Topeka RoadRunners.
Thursday, the Runners succeeded in putting their coach back in a better mood.
The Runners put a halt to a three-game losing streak and clinched the North American Hockey League regular-season title with a 4-2 win against Amarillo in the season finale.
After Langer’s quick exit and a lengthy post-game speech from assistant coaches R.J. Enga and Harry Mahood on Wednesday night, Langer said he was proud of the way his team regrouped to right the ship.
“I think they definitely responded,” Langer said. “We’re a real tight family and I think they felt like they kind of let me down a little bit -- that wasn’t the goal. I didn’t feel like I gave them the complete advantage to win that game (Wednesday night). I let them off the hook prior to the game and I learned by that.
“Our guys are a hard-working bunch. The leaders brought it together, and coach Enga and (Harry) Mahood did a great job. We all got it done tonight.”
Runners forward Davey Middleton, who rang up two goals, said the tactics of the coaching staff helped reignite the locker room.
“It brought us together as a team,” he said. “We refocused and came out with a team effort here tonight.
“It was a must-win.”
The Runners came out of the gates strong and appeared to get on the board first, but they saw an early goal wiped out by a crease violation. Amarillo forward Eric Millisor then caught Topeka goalie Eric Rohrkemper out of position and fired in a shot at 7:18. However, the rest of the period belonged to the RoadRunners.
Justin Hussar put in a loose puck in front on the net at 9:20 to even the score. Jordan Davis then gave the Runners the lead, blowing by an Amarillo defender to get to the net and light the lamp at 13:12.
The Runners outshot Amarillo 14-3 in the first period to set the tone.
“We wanted to get out early and get out often,” Langer said. “Besides that goal we gave up early, we played good hockey.”
Middleton blasted in a slap shot to give Topeka a 3-1 lead at the 4:05 mark before Brooks Behling brought the Bulls back within a goal at 5:42.
Rohrkemper came up big for the Runners in the third period, stopping eight shots to help preserve the lead before Middleton’s empty-netter with eight seconds left sealed the game.
Langer said he was particularly pleased to capture the regular-season title and add another banner to the rafters of Landon Arena.
“It feels great,” Langer said. “We raised the bar here again in RoadRunner land. This is the first group to do it, and that’s not an easy one to do. It’s very difficult.”
Topeka played its fourth consecutive game without injured forwards Michael Hill and Andrew O’Leary. Forward Ryan White also sat out the third period Thursday, nursing a shoulder injury.
The RoadRunners will begin the South Division playoffs at home, hosting the Wichita Falls Wildcats April 2-3 for the first two games in a best-of-five series.
Amarillo 1 1 0 -- 2
Topeka 2 1 1 -- 4
First period — 1. Amarillo, Millisor (unassisted), 7:18; 2. Topeka, Justin Hussar (Christie, Poe), 9:20; 3. Topeka, Davis (unassisted), 13:12.
Second period — 4. Topeka, Middleton (Davis), 4:05; 5. Amarillo, Behling (Sarcona), 5:42.
Third period — 6. Topeka, Middleton (unassisted), 19:52.
Shots on goal — Amarillo 3-9-8 – 20. Topeka 14-8-5 – 27.
Goalies — Amarillo, Gruehl. Topeka, Rohrkemper.
Attendance — 2,256.
Stars of the game — First star: Middleton. Second star: Davis. Third star: Hussar.