It may sound cliché, but Topeka RoadRunners coach Scott Langer truly wants his team to take the North American Hockey League’s Robertson Cup Tournament one game at a time.
Because if the RoadRunners stumble in their first game with Fairbanks, Langer knows it would put the Runners behind the eight-ball right away.
“It’s very tough to really get these guys focusing on anybody but the first team,” Langer said. “If you don’t win the first game, you’re in deep trouble in this tournament. You really have to try to get out of the gates early.
“We’re preparing team by team. We’ll let the boys play their game and let the staff work hard to prepare for the next game.”
The RoadRunners will open the tournament against the Ice Dogs at 7:35 tonight in Landon Arena. That game will follow the first contest of the Cup featuring the Amarillo Bulls and Michigan Warriors at 4:05 p.m.
Fairbanks, which finished as the runner-up in last season’s tournament, will give the Runners a tough test right off the bat. The Ice Dogs rolled through the playoffs, posting a 6-1 record against Kenai River and Wenatchee to win the West Division. They were just as strong in the regular season, posting a record of 40-15-3 to finish six points behind Topeka for the regular season championship.
“Their staff is very energized, so their team plays very energized,” Langer said of the Ice Dogs. “They have a strong tradition. Coach (Josh) Hauge has done a great job since he’s been there, and he took it over from a very good coach in Rob Proffitt.”
Despite playing in different divisions for the last three seasons, the Runners and Ice Dogs do have some history. The RoadRunners met up with Fairbanks for a hard-fought five-game series in the 2008 South finals, using a dramatic Game 5 overtime victory to advance to the Cup.
“We’ve had some great battles when we did play, going back to a Game 5 here in this building,” Langer said. “There’s some tradition between our two clubs.”
The round-robin portion of the tournament will run through Thursday. The teams will then be re-seeded with the top team advancing to the championship game. The No. 2 and No. 3 seeds will play in Friday night’s semifinal to decide the second team in the championship game.
The Runners will be looking to prove themselves after falling to Amarillo in Game 5 of South finals.
“They’re very eager to get this thing going,” Langer said. “Obviously with (the Robertson Cup) being talked about by everybody in the community all year, as much as we’ve tried to shelter them from it, it’s been on their minds. They’re ready to get at it.”
After using goaltender Rasmus Tirronen for all five games of the South finals, Langer hinted that both Tirronen and Eric Rohrkemper will see action this week.
“There’s no way you can ride one goaltender in a tournament like this and be successful. I truly believe that,” Langer said. “How we rotate, we’re still working on that.”
Nate Milam has led the Runners’ offense in the postseason with seven goals and five assists.