Pilots drop series opener to Brahmas, 4-2

By: Richard Kelly

In a vital two- game series for a tightly contested NAHL South Division, the Lone Star Brahmas took game one Friday night.

Lone Star (15-14-6) used a three-goal second period, propelling past the Topeka Pilots 4-2 at the NYTEX Sports Center.

Trailing 4-1 most of the third, Topeka (15-16-4) scored late in the final 20 minutes, but it was not enough to complete the comeback.

Forward Austin McCarthy scored the Pilots lone goal in the third, his eighth of the season, with a shot from the blue line beating goaltender Harrison Feeney at 16:08.

The loss drops the Pilots to fifth place in the NAHL South Division, with the Brahmas now in sole possession of fourth.

“It was nice to see our guys battle till the end, but we need to see a complete 60-minute effort tomorrow night,” Pilots coach Simon Watson said. 

With the game scoreless through the first five minutes, a two-minute minor for boarding on defenseman Brenden Rons gave the Brahmas a powerplay.

The Brahmas wasted no time, scoring just three seconds into the man-advantage at 6:42. With a slick feed across the blue line, defenseman Blake Evennou blistered a slap shot past goaltender Emil Gransoe, making it 1-0 Brahmas.

After some good back and forth play between the teams, the Pilots had their best chance of the frame late in the first. Forward Matthew Francois skated in through the slot and narrowly missed a goal when Feeney made a nice skate save.

The rebound popped out to forward Joel Brandinger, who put another shot on net, with Feeney making a sprawling save to keep it 1-0 Lone Star.

Gransoe stopped 10 of 11 shots in the first period, as he was countered by Feeney, who stopped 11 shots.

Trailing 1-0, Topeka went to the powerplay in the early minutes of the second period. But while shorthanded, Lone Star forward Guerra scored his ninth goal of the season at 4:10 to make it 2-0.

Guerra grabbed the loose puck behind the Pilots net after a turnover. He turned and slipped a backhanded wraparound shot through Gransoe’s legs, doubling the Brahmas lead.

“Special teams were the difference tonight,” Watson said. “Giving up that short-handed goal really hurt us.” 

Midway through the second, Lone Star earned another powerplay, with a two-minute minor for checking from behind going to Pilots defenseman Max Finner. On the advantage, Evennou scored his second goal of the night at 9:05, putting the Pilots down 3-0, as he ripped another slap shot into the twine off an assist from defenseman Scott Persson. Persson had three assists on the night.

With the Pilots powerplay entering the game third in the NAHL South Division, Pilots forward Valdemar Ahlberg injected some life into his team at 16:09, while on the man- advantage.

Ahlberg took a nice pass from defenseman Cole Thiessen on the play, and from the slot, he beat Feeney cleanly on the blocker side to make it 3-1.

Before the second period ended, however, forward Andrew DeCarlo picked up his sixth tally of the season at 19:28 to push the advantage back to three. DeCarlo followed up on a rebound and beat Gransoe, pushing the Brahmas advantage to 4-1 heading into the final 20 minutes.

Dead even in shots after one period, Lone Star had the advantage in the second, outshooting Topeka 13-5.

The two teams will face off again at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, as the Pilots look to earn a series split.