In a match with over 100 penalty minutes combined, the Topeka Pilots prevailed on Friday night.
Facing the Springfield Jr. Blues at Landon Arena, Topeka (16-9-2) had five goals from five different goal scorers, including two defensemen, as the Pilots knocked off the Jr. Blues 5-3 in a physical affair.
After jumping out to a 5-1 lead, Springfield had cut the deficit to 5-3 early in the third period, but a stout defensive effort in the final 20 minutes preserved the Topeka lead.
A game-changing moment came late in the first period, as forward Dominic Sandoval raced in alone on a shorthanded break. With just .6 seconds remaining in the first period, Sandoval beat goaltender Ryan Wilson high on the blocker side to make it 3-1 Topeka at first intermission, giving the Pilots some breathing room into the locker room.
“That was a big shorthanded goal by Dominic,” Pilots head coach Simon Watson said. “It’s a great boost for the guys any time you get a goal while down a man on the penalty kill, and we carried that momentum into the second period.”
Up 3-1 in the second, Topeka tacked on two more before the frame was halfway over.
At 2:54, forward Michael Muschitiello took a slick feed from forward Connor Zilisch and raced in alone on Wilson. He beat the goaltender five-hole on the ice for a 4-1 lead.
Less than three minutes later, at 5:47, defenseman Vincent Corcoran was credited with his third goal of the season. On the play, Corcoran’s shot was originally waived off on the ice and play continued, after it appeared to hit the post.
During the net stoppage in play, referee Mitchell Perkins consulted with the off-ice officiating team, as it was determined Corcoran’s shot did cross the goal line, making it 5-1 Pilots.
“We wanted to start strong and establish our presence early, and our guys did a good job of that,” Watson said.
A late Jr. Blues goal in the second period and an early goal in the third made it 5-3, but Springfield would get no closer.
Forward Quinn Green opened the scoring just 1:44 into the first period, as Topeka was off and running. Green’s shot beat goaltender Alex Proctor five-hole. Proctor was waived after the goal in favor of Wilson for the remainder of the contest.
After Springfield tied at it at one at 7:02, defenseman Luc Salem gave the Pilots back the lead at 11:55, netting his fourth of the season, with a seeing-eye shot from the blue line beating Wilson.
Goaltender Guy Blessing picked up the victory in Friday’s contest, stopping 15 of 18 shots on goal, improving his record to 6-6-1 on the season.
Topeka will look to complete a series sweep Saturday night, with puck drop at 7:05 p.m. Any patrons who attend Wing Fling at the Stormont Vail Events Center can take their Wing Fling tickets to the box office for a free ticket to Saturday night’s Pilots game. There will also be a late skate following the game, with $5 admission and $3 skate rental.