Forward Matthew Francois was the hero for the Topeka Pilots in an exciting overtime at Landon Arena.
In a frenetic and heart-pumping extra session, Francois found himself alone in the slot area in front of Fairbanks Ice Dogs goaltender Mattias Sholl with just under 30 seconds to play.
After an excellent pass out of the corner from forward Michael Muschitiello, Francois beat Sholl with a quick wrist shot through his legs. This sent his teammates over the bench to celebrate and 1,502 raucous fans home happy, as the Pilots skated away with a 3-2 victory.
With the win, Topeka (9-6-0) earned a series split and rebounded from a tough 5-1 loss on Friday.
“We did a little switch, and it confused their defense,” Francois said. “I was open and Musch (Muschitiello) fed it to me and I buried it. It was awesome and a great way to come back from Friday.”
Both teams had a number of chances leading up to the overtime winner, with Sholl along with Pilots goaltender Emil Gransoe making some big saves in the extra session.
Neither team was prepared to let up as the extra point hung in the balance.
“We laid everything on the line, with both teams trying to get that two points,” Pilots head coach Simon Watson said. “It was great for us to come away with it.”
Right off the opening faceoff in Saturday’s contest, Topeka appeared ready to play, coming out with 11 shots on goal in the first period.
Forward Dallas Tulik, continuing his strong offensive showing to open the season, got the scoring started at 16:21 of the period, with a powerplay goal, his 12th tally of the year.
Fairbanks (8-6-2) came right back at 18:15 with an equalizing tally, as forward Jonathan Sorenson evened it up at 1-1.
Netting his first goal of the season, forward Joel Brandinger stole the lead right back for Topeka at 19:04 of the first, giving the Pilots a 2-1 lead after one.
“We tried some different lines tonight, tried to find ‘lightning in a bottle’, and our guys responded,” Watson said. “They did the work, they put in the effort and they were rewarded.”
A scoreless second period was certainly without void of action, with Fairbanks peppering Gransoe with 14 shots on goal in the middle frame while Topeka countered with seven shots, but neither team could break through.
An unfortunate bounce led to the equalizing goal at 13:55 of the third, with forward Ty Proffitt picking up his second goal of the season.
The Ice Dogs had a couple of late chances in regulation, but they were turned aside by Gransoe.
Topeka now returns to divison action, with the Lone Star Brahmas coming to Topeka this weekend, November 2-3, for a two-game series with the Pilots. It will be Military Appreciation Salute to Service Weekend. Join the Pilots as they RED out Landon Arena on Friday night to Remember Everyone Deployed, and a special military jersey auction following Saturday’s game. All past and present service member, along with spouses and dependents, will receive a $7 ticket for anywhere in the arena when they show a valid military ID at the ExpoCentre Box Office.