Other than the Topeka RoadRunners, no other team is more familiar with Landon Arena than the Amarillo Bulls.
That might explain why the Bulls looked so comfortable in Tuesday’s 5-2 victory against Michigan in the opening game of the Robertson Cup.
Facing NAHL Most Valuable Player Robert Tadazak, the Bulls’ offense came up huge, netting four goals against the standout goalie before adding an empty-netter to cement their first ever Robertson Cup victory.
Amarillo coach Dennis Williams said playing in Topeka tends to bring out the best in his team.
“This is like our home away from home right now,” Williams said. “Our guys know this rink and we know the bounces. We know the town and we know what to expect here. We’re excited to be here.”
Bulls’ forward Dan Sherer agreed.
“Honestly, it’s like a home game to us,” he said. “It really helps a lot. We like this place. It’s big ice and we’re able to use our speed and our movement.”
Amarillo managed to get to Tadazak early, finding the back of the net on Sherer’s rebound goal 2:33 into the game. Michigan answered with A.J White’s tally at 11:13 of the first, but the Bulls regained the lead 41 seconds into the second on Matt Johnson’s goal. Amarillo’s potent power play then cashed in when Derek Hills fired in a shot from the point at 13:00 to grab all the momentum
Sherer said striking early against Tadazak gave the Bulls a boost of confidence.
“It was huge,” he said. “Our big goal was to get him rattled. We were looking to just shoot the puck and get whatever we could.”
Michael Erickson lit the lamp at 7:15 of the third period to put the Bulls up 4-1. Michigan managed to creep back within striking distance on Michael Szuma’s tally at 14:36, but Luke Jenkins later notched an empty-netter after the Warriors opted to pull Tadazak to go on a 6-on-4 advantage.
The Bulls out-shot Michigan 34-26. Williams said he was pleased with the opportunities his team created.
“We wanted to get some quality shots against him,” he said. “Non-quality shots from a long way out will always give the goalie confidence.
“You can’t put ’em up in the air. You got to keep him off his glove. You got to get him on his pads in order to get him. He’s a pretty hot goalie, and for us to get four off of him was a huge plus.”
Amarillo netminder Nikifor Szczerba had another solid game, turning aside 24 of 26 shots.
The Bulls will take on the hosting RoadRunners at 7:35 p.m. Wednesday. An Amarillo win would guarantee the Bulls a spot in the semifinals.
Michigan 1 0 1 -- 2
Amarillo 1 2 2 -- 5
First period -- 1. Amarillo, Sherer (Smoot, Johnson), 2:33; 2. Michigan, White (Perpich, White), 11:13.
Second period -- 3. Amarillo, Johnson (unassisted), 0:41; 4. Amarillo, Hills (Beckman), 13:00.
Third period -- 5. Amarillo, Erickson (Behling, Millisor), 7:15; 6. Michigan, Szuma (Eckler), 14:36; 7. Amarillo, Jenkins (unassisted), 17:52.
Shots on goal -- Michigan 9-7-10 - 26. Amarillo 11-13-10 - 34.
Goalies -- Michigan, Tadazak. Amarillo, Szczerba.
Attendance -- 407.
Stars of the game -- First star: Johnson. Second star: Hills. Third star: Sherer.