Pilots fall in tightly contested battle with Jr. Blues

The Topeka Pilots battled all night with the Springfield Jr. Blues but came up just short on Friday. 

Tied at four in overtime, Topeka (28-13-4) thought they had the game-winning goal, with a shot from Pilots forward Michael Muschitiello appearing to sneak past goaltender Ryan Wilson and cross the goal line. 

The play was immediately blown dead, however, and the goal was called off by referee Patrick Jacobs for an apparent hand pass. 

As play continued on, a giveaway in front of the net by the Pilots led to a wide-open look for Jr. Blues forward Cole Schneider. 

Schneider beat Pilots goaltender Josh Langford low on the glove side, as Springfield knocked off Topeka 5-4 in a see-saw affair at Landon Arena. 

Leading 4-3 with only minutes to play, Topeka surrendered a game-tying goal at 17:22 of the third, when forward Caden Villegas netted his second of the night and 14th of the season. 

“It was a back-and-forth game all night, but I thought we could’ve done better taking control of pucks,” Pilots head coach Simon Watson said. “It really opened up the ice.” 

Topeka trailed 3-2 early in the third and made a comeback, netting two goals to eventually take a 4-3 lead at 15:36 of the third. Forward Alexander Oberg netted the fourth goal on the powerplay, after the Jr. Blues were called for too many men on the ice.  

Muschitiello made a great individual effort to set up Oberg on the play, weaving through the Jr. Blues and firing a shot on Wilson. The rebound ricocheted right to Oberg, who buried the shot for a late lead. 

Forward Nick Nardecchia tied the game at three at 9:08 of the third, as he ripped a shot past Wilson, knocking his water bottle off the net. 

The Pilots opened the game strong with two goals in the first 10 minutes, as forwards Quinn Green and Connor Zilisch netted tallies at 5:24 and 8:29 to give the Pilots a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes. 

But the Jr. Blues battled back with two goals of their own to make it 2-2 in the second period, beating Langford. Langford ended the night with 26 saves on 31 shots, while Wilson stopped 26 of 30 shots. 

An early goal by Springfield in the third gave them three consecutive goals, as they took their first lead of the night at 4:43 of the third. 

Picking up one point in the NAHL South Division standings, Topeka can clinch a playoff spot with a victory on Saturday or a loss by the Corpus Christi IceRays, who are facing the Lone Star Brahmas this weekend. Puck drop in Saturday night’s affair will be at 7:05 p.m. at Landon Arena. 

A late skate will immediately follow Saturday’s game, with a $5 admission and $3 skate rental.