Saturday, 12.31.2016 / 10:02 pm CT
By Alex von Keudell / Photo: Caroline Rea
A back-and-forth game at the Kansas Expocentre ended in regulation on New Year’s Eve, with the Wildcats edging the RoadRunners by a 5-4 final.
An early opportunity for Jeff Skinner on a breakaway was turned aside by Topeka’s Ryan Snowden, who made a tremendous blocker save to start the game.
Jared Dempsey also had to be sharp right off the bat, turning aside a flurry of RoadRunner chances near the blue paint. At 8:29 of the first period, the scoreless tie was broken.
Ryan Orgel ripped a shot from the right point which Kevin Fees tipped in the slot. The deflection caused Snowden to readjust, and he was not able to keep the puck out of the net despite making solid contact with it. The goal would be Fees’ first as a Wildcat.
At 13:53, Alex Frye slipped past Orgel to initiate a 2-on-1 rush. Frye passed the puck from circle-to-circle, where Peyton Frantti knocked it past Dempsey to tie the game.
The Cats managed to outshoot the RoadRunners in the second period for the second consecutive night. Though it was Topeka’s Captain Marshall Bowery who located a loose puck in the mid-slot before swatting between Dempsey’s legs to give the Runners their first lead of the series.
Four minutes later, CJ Walker banked a pass off the boards past a pinching defenseman to spring Steven Tillie on a 2-on-1. He decided not to try passing to Nick Rosa, and rifled a shot off the crossbar over Snowden’s glove to level the score for the Wildcats.
The teams headed to the second intermission tied 2-2 in an evenly played match.
The back-and-forth scores continued in the third period, only at a much greater pace. Five goals were scored in period three.
Ricky Carballo tallied first on a fortunate bounce. He dipped his shoulder and carried the puck down his off-wing before weaving towards the front of the net. After losing possession, the puck caromed off a Topeka stick and into the net past Mike Rockwell, who’d subbed in for Snowden due to an injury. Alex Frye responded just over a minute later.
Max Harper regained the RoadRunners’ lead halfway through the third period to give the home side the momentum. However, said momentum was quickly quelled when Devon Fields was given a two-minute holding penalty on Ilya Skvortsov.
In his first game following suspension, the Russian made Fields pay. Skvortsov buried a wrist shot on a Wildcats power play to tie the game up for the fourth time. Just a few shifts later, he set up Jonathan Bendorf for a late third period goal. The Runners were too winded at the end of the game to make up the deficit, and the Wildcats secured a stranglehold on the series.
Dempsey stopped 29 of 33 for Wichita Falls, while Snowden and Rockwell shared the workload for Topeka. Snowden denied 17 of 19, while Rockwell stymied 11 of 14. The Wildcats and RoadRunners will close the three-game series on New Year’s Day. The game will begin at 2 pm CT.