Pilots open NAHL Showcase with 2-1 victory over Wilderness

The Topeka Pilots got timely scoring and found a way to get a hard-fought victory Wednesday. 

Playing in the first of four games in four days in the North American Hockey League Showcase in Blaine, Minn., Topeka (3-0-1) netted a tally with less than 10 minutes to play in the third period. Forward Nick Nardecchia picked up the goal, his first of the season. 

Then, the Pilots kept the Minnesota Wilderness offense at bay, as they ran out the clock in the final few minutes, leaving the Wilderness with no time to find an equalizer. 

When the final buzzer sounded, the Pilots had a 2-1 victory.  

Pilots goaltender Jakub Dobes picked up the win, stopping 27 of 28 shots to improve to 2-0-0 on the season and lowering his goals against average to 1.50. 

“We stayed true to our systems and made sure that we got pucks out of our zone when we needed to,” Pilots head coach Simon Watson said. “And Jakub shut the door when we needed him to.” 

Nardecchia’s goal came even-strength at 13:49 of the third period. After stealing the puck along the boards, he slipped around the Wilderness defense and ripped a screened shot past goaltender Ryan Ouelette’s outstretched pads. 

Forward Shawn Kennedy and defenseman Jordan Kovacs each had an assist on the play. Kovacs also had an assist on Topeka’s first goal of the evening in the second period. 

After a scoreless first period, the Pilots opening goal gave them a 1-0 lead at 1:04 of the second period. Forward Quinn Green had the marker, turning and blasting a shot from the slot past Ouelette. The goal was Green’s second tally of the season, after he led the Pilots with 24 goals and 39 points last season. 

The Wilderness got on the board with a powerplay goal at 3:41 of the third period, as forward Nate Horn beat Dobes with a quick wrist shot from the slot. 

The game then remained even at one until Nardecchia’s goal late. Final shots on goal were in favor of the Wilderness at 28-20. 

The Pilots now gear up for game two of the showcase at 4:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon against the St. Cloud Blizzard.