It was a raucous occasion on Thursday, as the Topeka Pilots faced the Amarillo Bulls in their inaugural Kids Day Game at the Stormont Vail Events Center.
With over 3,000 kids in attendance from area schools, Topeka (7-2-1) fed off that energy all game, playing a tightly contested affair against the Amarillo Bulls.
Forward Austin McCarthy was the difference maker offensively, as his two tallies gave the Pilots a 2-1 lead in the third period, which they would hold late. The Pilots held a late surge from the Bulls, winning 2-1.
During the final minutes of the third period, Amarillo (3-2-1) pulled goaltender Max Gutjahr for the extra attacker, but Pilots goaltender Jakub Dobes kept the Bulls at bay, as he stopped 24 of 25 shots overall. Dobes improves to 4-2-0 on the season with the victory, lowering his goals against average to 1.82.
“It was a back-and-forth game today,” Pilots head coach Simon Watson said. “The energy in the arena was unreal, so it made for a really fun game and a fun win for our team.”
With unison chants of “Let’s Go Pilots” filling the arena before the puck even dropped, Topeka came out of the gate strong on Thursday, having some strong chances early. Neither team could find the back of the net in the opening period, however, leaving the game scoreless after one.
After an intermission presentation from the Topeka Zoo, McCarthy fired up the fans just 31 seconds into the second period, giving the Pilots a 1-0 lead. On the play, McCarthy skated in on an odd-man rush and beat Gutjahr short-side, sending the fans into a frenzy.
Amarillo defenseman Brendan Blair evened it up at 1-1 at 6:11, as his shot through traffic beat Dobes.
After D.A.R.E. spoke with kids during second intermission, the two teams entered the third period knotted at 1-1.
This led up to McCarthy’s game-winning goal 53 seconds into the third period. On the play, McCarthy’s wrist shot from the right faceoff circle clanked off the post and found its way to the back of the net. His six goals on the season leads the Pilots.
With two more games still remaining in the three-game series, Topeka and Amarillo will return to the ice at 7:05 p.m. Friday night at the Stormont Vail Events Center.