South finals next for Runners

Davey Middleton, right, and the RoadRunners will host Amarillo in the South finals opener.

The Topeka RoadRunners’ first-round playoff series turned out to be a five-game dog fight.

 

If nothing else, the hard-fought series against Wichita Falls should have prepared the RoadRunners for what is expected to be another fierce series against the Amarillo Bulls.

The RoadRunners will host Games 1 and 2 of the South Division finals at 7:05 tonight and Saturday night at Landon Arena.

RoadRunners coach Scott Langer, whose team pulled off a thrilling 4-3 series-clinching win Monday night on a last-minute goal by Jordan Davis, said the series was a good test for his squad.

“I think it was very important for our team to deal with some of that adversity and to understand that nothing comes easy at this time of the year,” he said. “It takes everything you have in the tank to get through.”

The same will likely be true in the South finals.

The RoadRunners have already formed an intense rivalry with the Bulls, a first-year team in the North American Hockey League. The Bulls had the upper-hand on Topeka early in the season, winning four of the first six matchups. However, the RoadRunners are 5-1 during the past six meetings between the two teams.

The season series also featured some ugly games that resulted in injuries, ejections and suspensions. Langer said his players won’t be looking to settle any scores with the Bulls, other than the one on the scoreboard.

“We’ve thrived on beating Amarillo and I think they’ve thrived on beating us,” Langer said. “It’s going to be a great series. The extra-curricular stuff is over. We don’t have time to focus on any of that stuff because it’s going to hurt you in the end.”

The Bulls are coming off a 3-1 series win against Texas in the other South semifinal. Amarillo closed out the Tornado with a 2-1 overtime win in Game 4.

“They’re a hard-working team,” Langer said of the Bulls. “They’re a team that goes for 60 minutes — coach (Dennis) Williams has instilled that in his team and we’ve seen that all year. If we have any of those lapses that we had in the first round, we’re going to be in trouble.

“We know this team well. It’s going to be a big-time chess match between our two clubs.”

The RoadRunners will be aiming for their second South Division postseason title in franchise history. They advanced to the Robertson Cup in the 2007-08 season but have been knocked out in the South finals the past two seasons.

“I think we have to understand how big this is,” Langer said. “The last time we got out of this round and won the South Division championship was years ago. For the players that have been in our organization that didn’t get through this round, we owe it to them to get through it.”

The RoadRunners are already guaranteed a spot in the Robertson Cup Tournament, which Topeka will host May 2-8. If Amarillo should win the South, the two divisional playoff winners that had the fewest amount of points during the regular season will play a best-of-three series to decide the final participant in the tournament.

Nate Milam led the RoadRunners with four goals in the Wichita Falls series while Kyle Sharkey and Brian Christie each had two. Zack Smoot and Matt Johnson each have three postseason goals for the Bulls.

Topeka goalie Rasmus Tirronen has stopped 75 of 81 shots in three playoffs games, while Eric Rohrkemper has saved 52 of 57 shots in two appearances. Amarillo goalie Nikifor Szczerba will likely get the call for the Bulls. Szczerba has turned aside 117 of 132 shots in four starts.

 

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