After entering the holiday break on a high note, the Topeka RoadRunners will be faced with a tough task when they return to Landon Arena ice this weekend.
The Runners, who have won 11 of their last 13 games, will kick off a two-game set with the Amarillo Bulls at 6:05 p.m. Friday in a pivotal divisional series.
Amarillo (20-5-2) has taken three out of four games against the Runners this season and sits in second place in the South Division standings, two points ahead of Topeka and one point behind first-place Texas.
"They're one team that's given us a lot of problems, even though we've had leads in almost every one of those games," RoadRunners coach Scott Langer said. "The good thing is we know that we have to beat that hockey team, so it's going to be a good test.
"Their coach (Dennis Williams) just won't let them take a shift off and that's been our issue — once we get up on them, we just kind of lay down and coast. I'm hoping our maturity has grown enough that we understand we can't do that."
As of Wednesday, the Runners (19-7-2) still were missing a few players that were stuck on the East Coast. However, Langer said the week's practices were productive.
"We've been battle-testing them pretty good in practice the last few days, and they've been doing a pretty good job," Langer said. "Usually practices the first three days back are horrible, and they actually were pretty good."
RoadRunners defenseman Jacob Poe said focus will be key this weekend.
"We just have to keep things simple, especially coming back from break," he said. "Everyone's had a little time off, but we've really got to focus.
"(The Bulls) are really good in the third period. They've come back on us a couple of times, and that's one thing we've got to focus on, not letting up in the third."
Amarillo earned a 7-3 victory over Wichita Falls on Wednesday. The RoadRunners last played Dec. 18 when they routed New Mexico, 9-1.
Langer said Michael Hill's status for the series is uncertain, calling him day-to-day. The injured Hill is Topeka's leading scorer with 23 goals and 20 assists. Justin Hussar ranks second in scoring for the RoadRunners with 16 goals and 14 assists.
Zack Smoot leads a balanced offensive attack for the Bulls, registering 12 goals and 17 helpers.