Pilots can’t finish late rally, fall 5-4 to Bulls

The Topeka Pilots came out looking ready to beat the number one team in the North American Hockey League South Division on Friday night. 

They could not keep the momentum, however, in the second and third periods. 

With the Pilots leading 2-1 after two periods, Amarillo and Topeka combined for six tallies in the third period, with Amarillo scoring four, as the Pilots fell 5-4 at Landon Arena in front of 1,936 fans. 

Topeka trailed 4-3 with minutes to go, before Amarillo tacked on an empty-net goal to make it 5-3.  

At 19:32 of the third, forward Brendan Schultz then cut the Bulls’ lead back to one at 5-4. 

Despite a desperation push in the waning seconds, Amarillo held on to take the game in regulation. 

With the game there for the taking, Pilots coach Simon Watson said he was disappointed in the final outcome. 

“We came out hard, and we showed them we wanted to win in the first,” Watson said. “Then, we just got seemed to get away from our game. It’s frustrating, knowing we had a chance to win.” 

With the loss, the Pilots now drop to six points behind the Corpus Christi Ice Rays in the push for the fourth and final playoff spot in the NAHL South Division. 

The game started strong for Topeka, with forward Christian Thomas getting the Pilots flying high early in the first. Following up on a shot from defenseman Cam Cervone, Thomas fired a backhanded shot through goaltender Jason Grande’s five-hole, putting the Pilots up 1-0 at 3:31. 

Thomas, who started the season with the Bulls, now has two tallies on the season, both since joining the Pilots. 

Defenseman Cole Thiessen doubled the lead for Topeka at 13:48 of the frame, chasing Grande from goal after only 10 shots on goal. On the rebound, Thiessen took a rebound from forward Quinn Green and ripped a slap shot through a maze of bodies from the blue line, beating Grande low on the stick side. 

Less than a minute later, the Bulls cut the Pilots’ lead in half, making it 2-1. Forward Nick Trela was credited with the goal, unassisted, when he grabbed the puck behind the net and spun a wraparound shot past goaltender Emil Gransoe. 

The score line stood into the first intermission, with Topeka outshooting Amarillo 11-9 in the opening 20 minutes. 

In the second period, Bulls goaltender Justin Everson and Gransoe held much of the attention, both making several flashy saves to keep the score at 2-1. Gransoe specifically made several stellar glove saves, nulling any rebounds for the Bulls to capitalize on. 

The Bulls ramped up the offense in the second, doubling up on Topeka in shots on goal with a 14-7 margin. 

Hanging on to a slim 2-1 lead, the Bulls took a 3-2 lead halfway through the third. Forward Hugh Quinn even the game back up for the Pilots, with a nice tally at 12:06 of the third making it 3-3. 

Forward Brett Abdelnour ripped a shot short side on Gransoe at 13:11 of the frame, giving the Bulls the lead right back at 4-3. 

Topeka and Amarillo face off again at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Landon Arena, on “Superhero NIght” sponsored by the Boys & Girls Club of Topeka.