Topeka RoadRunners fans will soon get another look at several of the veterans who helped the Runners compile the best regular-season record in the North American Hockey League a season ago.
But Saturday night’s first exhibition game was all about the newcomers.
With 19 first-year players playing for the first time in Landon Arena, Topeka started its preseason slate on a good note, earning a 4-0 win against the University of Central Oklahoma.
Only three players from last year’s squad — Joe Van Antwerp, Mason Miller and Kevin Novakovich — suited up, with RoadRunners coach Scott Langer using the tune-up as an opportunity to gauge the progress of his new players.
“We’re still in the process of putting it all together,” Langer said. “It was nice to see some things start working for us and the new guys starting to grasp some of those concepts.”
The game also served as an audition for players on the bubble. Langer said the team will trim its current 29-man roster to 25 players before the regular season.
“A lot of the guys are fighting for their life and a lot of them didn’t make decisions very easy for us,” Langer said.
The Runners recently picked up two more familiar faces when veterans Brian Christie and Cory Ramsey decided to forego the United States Hockey League at the last minute and return to Topeka. Christie, the No. 1 pick in the USHL draft, ranked third on the team in scoring last season, putting up 20 goals and 37 assists, while Ramsey helped anchor the Runners’ defense and served as an alternate captain.
“It’s certainly nice to get a phone call and they say ‘Hey, I want to come be a RoadRunner,” Langer said of Christie and Ramsey’s decision to rejoin the RoadRunners. “Those are two high-end hockey players that we really didn’t think we were going to have back. Some of these guys we brought in were to fill some of those holes, so it’s making decisions even tougher. But those two guys are our big-time leaders.”
Langer said some veterans will be in the lineup in another game with Central Oklahoma at 6:05 p.m. Sunday.
The RoadRunners outshot the Bronchos 44-13 and set the tone from the get-go, scoring twice in the first nine minutes. Grant Garvin got the Runners started, scoring off a rebound 2:26 into the game. Scott Moyer then lit the lamp at 8:22. Luc Gerdes scored at the 17:10 mark of the second period before Jake Kamrass netted the last goal of the night at 6:38 of the third.
Garvin said it felt good to finally get a chance to play an organized game in Landon Arena.
“The fans were great and it was a great atmosphere,” he said. “I love it here.”
Shigenobu Kakudate, a native of Tokyo, Japan, picked up two assists for the Runners, while Josh Hillegas and Brandon Reagan combined to get the shutout in net. Hillegas played the first two periods before Reagan came on to start the third.
Central Oklahoma 0 0 0 — 0
Topeka 2 1 1 — 4
First period — 1. Topeka, Garvin (Kakudate), 2:26; 2. Topeka, Moyer (Roisum), 8:22.
Second period — 3. Topeka, Gerdes (Van Antwerp), 17:50.
Third period — 4. Topeka, Kamrass (Kakudate), 6:28.