Friday, 12.30.2016 / 10:56 am CT
By Alex von Keudell
Heading into the first and only visit to Topeka this season, the Wildcats seek to snap their longest losing skid of the campaign (three games). Upon returning from a 13-day hiatus from hockey, however, the team is not quite as rejuvenated as had been hoped.
A Trio of Close Defeats
Three weeks ago, a long sweep over the Odessa Jackalopes seemed imminent after Ricky Carballo scored a late goal to force overtime in the third and final game of the road series. However, Chase Thudium crushed those hopes and ended the Wildcats’ eight-game winning streak. The following weekend, the Cats found themselves on the wrong end of two one-goal decisions against the division-leading Lone Star Brahmas. While they may be on a three-game losing streak, the Cats came from behind in the third period to force overtime in two of those three games. They have not lost by more than one goal since October 15th.
Battered and Bruised
Tonight will be as understaffed as the Wildcats have been all season. Blake Ripley has not returned from Wisconsin yet as he waits for his shoulder to heal. Aleksi Poikola also sustained a shoulder injury two weeks ago against the Brahmas, and will likely not return to the lineup this weekend. CJ Regula and Ilya Skvortsov were suspended for head contact (two games) and abuse of official (one game), respectively. All four of the absent players for tonight’s game happen to be forwards.
Filling the Void
Coach Nelson and the Wildcats will be without their top two scorers, as well as two very important secondary scorers. Zach Heiser is expected to slide into one of the forward spots to balance things out, giving the Cats 11 dressed forwards and six dressed defensemen for tonight. The burden will be high on everyone to pick up the slack. If the Cats hope to snap their three-game skid against a Topeka team desperate to fight its way out of the South Division’s cellar, then those who are dressed will have to pull more weight than they’re accustomed to doing.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
A month of nothing but road games will finally come to an end after this weekend. Though the aforementioned problems will surely have the Cats’ minds focused on tonight’s matchup, this will be another long three-game series. The RoadRunners were swept by the Amarillo Bulls on home ice just before the holiday break, so they will certainly not be complacent throughout the series. Not to mention, the last time these teams played, the series ended with a full-scale brawl which led to six misconducts and four different suspensions. With this said, the Wildcats cannot overlook the rocky terrain which separates them from the light at the end of this month-long tunnel. If nothing else, focus will be the key word of this series.