The Texas Tornado saw their February swoon continue on Friday night as they dropped a 4-3 decision to the visiting Topeka Roadrunners. It looked as though the Tornado were on the verge of turning things around in the early going, but it was not to be. Just over a minute into the first Topeka set up in the offensive zone and fired a shot from the far circle. Hunter Leisner made the save but lost sight of the puck. Mitch Mueller stepped in front of Kyle Sharkey, reached behind Leisner and sent the puck to the boards to deny the visitors.
Texas picked up a bit of momentum and at 7:37 Alexey Soloviev controlled the puck in the far corner and sent a between the legs pass to Scott Conway who when barreling down the far side. Conway entered the zone and made two beautiful stick handling plays to get around two defenders, then dropped it for Brandon Hawkins trailing the play. Hawkins ripped a shot just under the crossbar for his league leading 32nd goal of the season.At 15:59, Max Shuart got past the defense and drove the net fishing for a rebound. Both Sharkey and Clint Garris jumped on Shuart to pull him away from Spencer Viele. Drew Mayer playing his first game since early January came in to knock Garris off leaving Shuart and Sharkey locked up. Shuart appeared to have no intention of going, but Sharkey would not let it go and tried to throw a right. Shuart responded with two rights directly on Sharkey’s chin then switched to a left that landed on the side of Sharkey’s head before Sharkey decided he had enough and drug Shuart to the ice.
In the second Topeka pulled even on a two on one break. Juraj Kucirko skated down left side then fed a perfect cross ice pass to Tyler Groat who put it inside the near post before Leisner could get across. Time of the goal was 1:00. With just over three minutes to go in the period, a broken play in the neutral zone resulted in Sean Gaffney having an open path to the net. He went streaking in on Leisner who came out to meet him, backed in and stoned him with the blocker to keep it even.
The third period was a blurr as there were five goals scored in the span of 2:34. The first came off of another Roadrunners odd man rush by Jake Kamrass and Tomas Nechala at 7:25. Leisner made a big save on Nechala but the puck was left in the paint with Leisner out of position for Drew Kariofiles to deposit.
Texas went on the power play at 7:54 and took only 18 seconds to capitalize. Michael Hoy put the puck on net from the faceoff which led to a mad scramble in front of Viele. Mayer sent the puck off Viele who from his back tried to shuffle it behind the net. Shuart pulled it off the left side of the cage stepped above the goal line and sent it top shelf. Topeka argued that the net had come off before the puck went in but it clearly had not.
The Roadrunners channeled their anger and quickly jumped back on top. Kucirko found Tyler Poulsen in the far circle for a wrister that Leisner kicked out to the near circle. Unfortunately Nechala was standing there to send a onetimer through a mass of humanity in front and past Leisner who never saw the puck. Time of the goal was 8:37. After a quick icing call against Texas, they set up for a faceoff to Leisner’s right. Tyler Andrew pulled the draw back to Garris who sent it hard off the endboards and it bounced out the other side to Jerad Tafoya just off the near post and he put it over Leinser’s left pad at 9:05, for a two goal lead.
The Tornado were down, but they were not going to go away. Just 54 seconds later, Jackson Leef won a puck battle in the far corner and sent a pass off the boards to Hawkins. Hawkins skated it to high slot and found Shuart crashing from the left wing for a shot over Viele.
The Shuart goal gave the Tornado some jump and they were putting a lot of pressure on the Roadrunners defense and Viele late when referee Jake Brenk decided to insert himself into the game with three questionable calls down the stretch. At 17:35 he hit Louie Rowe with a roughing call in the offensive zone on a hit in the corner because the Topeka defenseman went down like he had been run over by a truck. Brenk compounded his error by whistling Gaffney for a trip at 18:57 to even things up at four skaters per side. Then on the ensuing faceoff he called Hawkins for a slash in a puck battle along the boards to Viele’s left. Brenk’s calls were borderline at best and made early in the contest may not have been so egregious. However coming with just over 2:30 left in a one goal game, all three were totally out of line and prevented the guys from deciding it on the ice.
Topeka outshot Texas 33-28. The Tornado scored the only power play goal going 1-2 while they held the Roadrunners to 0-6.
Elsewhere around the NAHL South Division, Amarillo played host to Corpus Christi and came away with a 3-0 shutout. In Wichita Falls the Wildcats double up the visiting Odessa Jackalopes 4-2. Wichita Falls is now five points back of the Icerays for the fourth and final playoff spot.