The team MVP for the Topeka RoadRunners -- at least at this juncture -- just might be Don Stone.
The modest owner would never accept such credit. Yet he is responsible for keeping the Runners’ season alive by obtaining the rights to this year’s Robertson Cup.
The season-ending tournament to decide the North American Hockey League champion begins Tuesday in Landon Arena. Four teams are in the mix, including Topeka, which was guaranteed a berth as the tournament host.
Not that the Runners don’t belong. They recorded the best regular-season finish in the NAHL before winning a five-game series against Wichita Falls and losing a five-game series against Amarillo, a pair of South Division rivals.
“It seems like we’ve played Amarillo every game the last month and a half,’’ Stone said. “We built one heckuva rivalry with them in one year, which is hard to do, but it’s a good thing to do, a real good thing to do. We’ll play them again Wednesday night, we’ll beat them and we’ll get the last word in, hopefully.’’
The hope, too, is that Topeka supports the Robertson Cup.
The Runners play in the nightcap Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The top team from that round robin advances to the finals on Saturday. Teams that rank second and third play in Friday’s semifinal. The worst team is eliminated.
So get the buckets and mallets warm.
Or, head to the Kansas Expocentre without instrumentation and be satisfied to cheer on the home team while taking in the best amateur hockey the NAHL offers.
“I think our guys are working hard and I think our guys are ready,’’ Stone said. “Amarillo had a lot on the line Monday night. They needed to win to get in and we were in. I’m not saying that made our guys want it less.
“But our whole goal this year was we know we were in the Cup, and we want to win the Cup. I think our guys are ready. Coach (Scott Langer) tells me they’re in good spirits, they’re eager and ready to go. That’s good.’’
Hosting the Robertson Cup comes with a price. Stone estimates his franchise, in concert with the Expocentre, must provide an outlay between $50-60,000 to cover transportation costs, meals and lodging for the visiting teams -- Amarillo, Fairbanks and Michigan.
“We take all the financial risks,’’ said Stone, mentioning his partner in the enterprise, Expocentre general manager H.R. Cook.
But Stone wholeheartedly contends the opportunity is worth it. The Atlanta businessman flew to Kansas City on Saturday, immediately drove a rental car to Dubuque, Iowa, to attend a son’s hockey game that night, then arrived in Topeka in the wee hours Sunday.
Tonight, his franchise will host a banquet at Capitol Plaza Hotel to observe NAHL honorees. Lou Vairo, two-time coach of the U.S. Olympic team (1984, 2002) will be the featured speaker.
To make all this work, Runners officials have worked diligently on all aspects, along with Stone’s wife, Barbara.
“I’m very excited about it. It’s a great prize,’’ Stone said. “Clearly there’s an economic impact (for Topeka) and that’s a good thing.
“I think we’ve got somewhere between 800 to 1,000 hotel rooms booked, we’re planning on 385 meals in our various restaurants and we’re hoping people go out and experience and get involved in the things in Topeka there are to do.’’
In turn, a nice turnout among Topekans to support the Runners would not only be an encouraging response, but just might enable the city to claim a hockey champion of its own.
Kevin Haskin can be reached
at (785) 295-1159