Pilots knock off Jr. Blues, split weekend series

The Topeka Pilots never trailed on Saturday night in Springfield, Ill., as they bounced back from a narrow defeat Friday night. 

Forward Austin McCarthy scored twice and goaltender Guy Blessing stopped 40 of 44 shots he faced, as Topeka won 5-4 at the Nelson Center to split the weekend series with the Springfield Jr. Blues. 

Despite 13-4 shots on goal disparity in the third period, Blessing held strong, only allowing a tally late in the third, making it 5-4 Pilots heading into the final minute of the third. 

With goaltender Henry Graham pulled, the Jr. Blues could not find the equalizer, as the Pilots nabbed the two points. 

After being held scoreless until the final minute of regulation on Friday night, Topeka (6-2-1) got off to a raucous start in the first period on Saturday, amassing four goals in the opening 20 minutes. 

McCarthy got the Pilots on the board early at 5:04 of the first period, as he took a pass on a 3-on-1 break and beat goaltender Ryan Wilson. 

The Jr. Blues came right back with a tally at 6:16, beating Blessing with a rebound shot to tie the game at one. 

Then, forward Kyler Yeo got into the act for his first goal of the 2019-2020 season, beating Wilson on a rebound from just beyond the crease, making it 2-1 Pilots at 6:54. 

The action slowed down for several minutes following Yeo’s goal, before the Pilots struck again at 10:12. Forward Nick Nardecchia stole the puck away from the Jr. Blues defense and raced in alone, sneaking a shot past Wilson’s glove. Nardecchia now has three tallies in seven games this season. 

After another Jr. Blues goal made it 3-2 Topeka, the Pilots ended the period strong, with forward Quinn Green making it 4-2 with 17 seconds remaining in the first on the strength of a powerplay goal. Forward Shawn Kennedy made a nice cross-ice feed on the play, as Green ripped a shot by Wilson. 

Coming back for the second period, Wilson was replaced in net by Graham for the remaining 40 minutes. 

An even-strength tally from Jr. Blues forward Trent DeNuccio cut into the lead again at 5:48 of the second, putting Springfield within a goal. 

But McCarthy scored his second of the evening at 9:37, scorching a one-timer past Graham at 9:37 for a 5-3 Pilots lead going into the second intermission. 

Topeka now heads into a five- game homestand, starting with three-games against the Amarillo Bulls. The Pilots inaugural Kids Day game will be at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 3 at the Stormont Vail Events Center. For more information on the event or for tickets, visit www.topekapilots.com or call 785-266-7825 (PUCK).