By virtue of what was either a genius move or blind luck, the Topeka RoadRunners slipped past the Wichita Falls Wildcats in a shootout Thursday night at the Kansas ExpoCentre. The North American Hockey League South division leaders came away with a 4-3 victory.
Topeka head coach Scott Langer surely raised a few eyebrows when he sent defenseman Joe Van Antwerp onto the ice for the RoadRunners fifth shot in the shootout. Van Antwerp has three goals in 25 games for Topeka, two of them coming in one game against Corpus Christi on January 8.
Antwerp was not exactly the hot stick a team typically wants on the ice with the game on the line, but it turned out to be the right move as Antwerp worked the winning shot by Wildcats goalie Tyler Green.
It was an unlikely ending to a game that saw most of the action come in the final minutes as the Wildcats scored two goals late in regulation to force the division leaders into overtime.
Topeka took the early lead when newly acquired forward Davey Middleton scored with 5:15 remaining in the first period with assists from Chris Bond and Jordan Davis. The 1-0 advantage would carry the RoadRunners to the first intermission and through an uneventful second period.
A flurry of action opened the third, starting when Kyle Sharkey increased the Topeka lead to 2-0 with only 12 seconds gone in the final period of regulation. Davis and Jacob Poe would get the assists.
Dakota Klecha would finally put Wichita Falls on the board twenty seconds later with his 18th goal of the season. Steven Hoshaw would record an assist on the goal.
Topeka would jump up 3-1 when Daniel Dupell scored an unassisted goal at the 1:53 mark. As the game turned back to defense and the seconds ticked away, it appeared Dupell’s goal was the nail in the coffin, but assumptions of the Wildcats fall turned out to be premature.
Hoshaw would add a goal to his assist with an unassisted effort at the 13:48 mark to draw the Wildcats to within one, just 21 seconds before Miha Stebih scored his first NAHL goal to tie the game with assists from Alex Betts and Patrick Yudez.
The 3-3 tie would take the teams to the end of regulation and into a five minute overtime period that saw Topeka outshoot the Wildcats 5-1. Both teams would come up empty, sending the game to a shootout.
Klecha would lead off for the Wildcats, finding the back of the net to give them a 1-0 advantage to start the shootout. Ryan Frost and Mikhail Sentyurin would also score for the Wildcats, but after Bob Marx missed in Topeka’s opening attempt the RoadRunners would score four straight leading up to Van Antwerp’s game winner.
Green took the overtime loss, recording 33 saves on 30 shots. Eric Rohrkemper would take the win for Topeka with 24 saves on 27 shots.
Wichita Falls is now 17-16-4 on the season and picks up one point in the standings with the overtime loss.
Topeka improves to 26-8-2 and gives themselves a little breathing room at the top of the NAHL South with a three point lead over Texas.
The teams take to the ice again Friday night to finish the two game series in Topeka. The puck drops at 7:05 p.m.
In the NAHL South:
The Texas Tornado made the long trip to Alaska for a three game series against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Texas dropped game one of the series, taking a 5-2 loss on Thursday night as the Ice Dogs scored on 3-of-5 powerplay opportunities. The Texas loss coupled with Topeka’s win drops the Tornado three points behind the division leaders.
All other NAHL South teams were idle Thursday, with Corpus Christi and New Mexico beginning a two game series on Friday night and Amarillo waiting for a one game set against Wichita Falls on Saturday.
NAHL South Standings:
- Topeka RoadRunners, 26-8-2 (54 points)
- Texas Tornado, 23-8-5 (51 points)
- Amarillo Bulls, 22-8-3 (47 points)
- Wichita Falls Wildcats, 17-16-4 (38 points)
- Corpus Christi IceRays, 15-20-2 (32 points)
- New Mexico Mustangs, 9-23-3 (21 points)