With the end of the NAHL Showcase in sight, the Topeka Pilots came ready to leave it all on the ice Saturday morning.
As tired legs and bodies set in after a grueling stretch of seven games in nine days, Topeka (5-1-1) had chances abound in regulation, including numerous shots that clanked off the goal posts and the crossbar.
But the score remained deadlocked 0-0 after 60 minutes of regulation. Then, the five-minute 3-on-3 overtime also went without a decision, leading to a shootout.
With one final push, forward Shawn Kennedy scored the game-winning goal in the shootout, and Pilots goaltender Jakub Dobes stopped all three shots he faced, as Topeka earned a gritty 1-0 victory over the Jamestown Rebels.
“It was a battle,” Pilots head coach Simon Watson said. “It certainly was not a pretty win, but we were happy to finish the showcase with two straight wins.”
The Pilots also showed heart and resiliency on Friday, coming back from a 4-2 deficit in the second period against the Northeast Generals to win 5-4, on the strength of a goal from forward Michael Muschitiello. Goaltender Tyler Bost made a huge save in Friday’s contest with just over a minute remaining, to preserve the win.
Watson said his group showed poise in tense situations down the stretch in the last two games in the showcase.
“When they (Jamestown and Northeast) pressed us, we responded and took care of getting the puck out of the zone,” Watson said.
In the shootout Saturday morning, Dobes, a Czech Republic native, looked calm. He did not bite on fakes or dekes by the Rebels, seeing the puck well.
“Jakub is a patient goaltender,” Watson said. “He has a poise about him. He didn’t give them (Jamestown) much to look at.”
Kennedy’s goal in the shootout was a quick wrist shot over goaltender Noah West’s glove, as he kept his shot simple on cut-up ice.
“He went in there and just ripped it,” Watson said. “He kept it simple and didn’t try to do too much, and it paid off.”
The Pilots held a 33-12 shots on goal advantage for Saturday’s contest, including a second period where Topeka held a 6-0 shots advantage and a third period where they outshot the Rebels 17-4.
“Our guys know we just have to stick to our systems and our structure, and we have the chance to be in games,” Watson said. “We know we were tired and we were beat up, but we played a smart and solid game.”
After a successful 3-1-0 NAHL Showcase, Topeka now gets the opportunity for a short respite before their next series. Topeka heads to Springfield, Ill. on Sept 26-27 for a two-game series with the Springfield Jr. Blues. Springfield went 2-2-0 in the NAHL Showcase.
“It’s a nice reprieve for our guys,” Watson said. “We’re going to take a few days to rest before we prepare for a good Springfield team.”