With the Corpus Christi IceRays having the week off, the Wildcats had a golden opportunity to gain some ground on them for the South Division's fourth spot. Unfortunately, they ran into a Topeka team anxious to claw their way into second place past the Texas Tornado. When all was said and done, that's exactly what happened: the Roadrunners took home a pair of one-goal victories over the weekend and vaulted into second place while the Wildcats remain seven points behind Corpus Christi.
Things didn't look good early on Friday as the Roadrunners jumped out to a 2-0 lead just minutes into the second period off a pair of goals by the league's leading scorer, Sean Gaffney. But the 'Cats came back as Eliot Grauer lifted a wrister stick-side high past Topeka goalie Spencer Viele on the power play for a 2-1 game. Two minutes into the third, Rudy Junda picked up his first goal since December 1, redirecting Chris Knudson's slapper into the back of the net.
Turnovers were an issue all weekend though, and the Roadrunners managed to capitalize on several, including what proved to be Saturday's game-winner. Tyler Andrew gave the Roadrunners the lead with just over five minutes to play after they jumped on an errant pass in the Wildcats' zone. They held on for the 3-2 victory.
Saturday saw a back and forth second period but once again defensive zone turnovers led to a poor start to the third as the Roadrunners picked up a 4-3 victory.
After a scoreless first period, Patrick Yudez tapped home a rebound off Nick Farmer's shot for a 1-0 lead three minutes into the second. The lead was short-lived though, as Gaffney struck again only 57 seconds later to even the game at a goal apiece. A minute and a half later, the Roadrunners gained the lead off Trace Strahle's shot on the powerplay. But not to be outdone, the 'Cats tied it back up with a minute left in the period as Kyle Bauman scored a powerplay tally of his own.
The opening minute of the third ended up as the deciding factor. Any momentum the Wildcats hoped to gain with the late goal in the second was quickly quashed as Kyle Sharkey took advantage of a turnover and gave the 'Runners a 3-2 lead 23 seconds into the third. Only 19 seconds later, the Roadrunners got another one, as Tyler Andrew's wrap-around attempt trickled its way just past Evan Cowley's outstretched glove for a 4-2 game. The Wildcats made it interesting late as Eliot Grauer scored his second powerplay goal of the weekend with 8:27 to play, cutting the deficit in half, but the Roadrunner defense limited the Wildcats the rest of the way as they took home the 4-3 victory.
The Wildcats face the Roadrunners four more times this season: twice in Topeka March 1 and 2, then twice in Wichita Falls on March 29 and 30.
WEEKEND NOTES: Jake Townsend missed Friday's game due to suspension, but was back on Saturday. Charlie Hemstrom has another three games to serve after receiving a six-game ban for a cross-checking major last Friday against Amarillo… Conor O'Neil returned to the lineup from an upper body injury, appearing in both games… Evan Cowley was a combined 55/62 in his first two games back from the Five Nations Tournament… Cowley, O'Neil, Hemstrom, Grauer, and Bauman will be in Michigan this week for the NAHL's Top Prospects Tournament. They will be back with the Wildcats in time for this weekend's games against Odessa.
NAHL SOUTH NOTES: Corpus Christi and Odessa both had the weekend off… Amarillo swept Texas, allowing Topeka to move into second in the division… Both Topeka and Texas clinched playoff spots with the Wildcats' losses… The IceRays' magic number sits at 20: any combination of 20 points picked up by the IceRays or missed out on by the Wildcats will result in the Wildcats' elimination from playoff contention.