Brown Bears prevail, defeat Pilots 3-2 in shootout

Visiting the Kenai River Brown Bears in frigid Soldotna, Alaska, the Topeka Pilots looked to heat up the action on Friday night. 

Starting a two game-stint with Kenai River, Topeka (17-18-7) led 2-1 with under five minutes to go in the third period. The Pilots had gotten two second period tallies less than two minutes apart from another. 

However, the Pilots could not finish off the Brown Bears in regulation, with forward Trey LeBarge netting his fifth goal of the season and second tally of the night at 16:54 of the third. 

While on the powerplay, following a slashing minor on Pilots forward Eric Brown, LeBarge took the puck after a pass in deep near the crease. With a nice stickhandle, he beat Pilots goaltender Emil Gransoe to even the score at two, and sending the match to overtime. 

In overtime, Pilots forward Matthew Francois had a great chance to end the match. Francois took a turnover and raced in on goaltender Gavin Enright on a breakaway, but he was denied by Enright, with the match continuing. 

With the score remaining deadlocked at two, the game moved to a shootout. In the session, Pilots forwards Austin McCarthy, Hugh Quinn and Christian Thomas all got off good shots against Enright, but it was the Brown Bears who escaped victorious. 

Forward Andy Walker got the game-winner for the Brown Bears, deking and slipping a shot under Gransoe’s left pad on the Brown Bears first shootout attempt. 

Thomas came in with speed on the last chance to extend the shootout, but Enright snared his shot with his glove, keeping the puck out of the net. 

Trailing 1-0 after one period, forward Quinn Green opened the scoring for the Pilots at 8:25 of the second period. Green took a pass from defenseman Christian Dahl and redirected the puck past Enright. Green’s goal was his team-leading 18th goal of the season. 

Just over a minute later, at 9:42, a 2-on-1 break for the Pilots gave them a 2-1 lead. On the play, forward Kaiden Scott took a slick saucer pass from Thomas and fired a quick one-timer into the net for a 2-1 lead. 

Picking up a point in the standings, the Pilots remain two points behind the Corpus Christi IceRays for the fourth and final playoff spot in the NAHL South.

Topeka and Kenai River face off again Saturday at 10:30 p.m., as they look to earn a series split.