Despite 23 shots on goal in the final period, a late push from the Topeka Pilots was too little, too late, on Sunday.
Trailing 4-2 in the third period, Topeka (2-1-0) battled its way back to a one-goal deficit with 19 seconds left in the contest, but they could not equalize the game in the waning seconds, falling 4-3 to the Odessa Jackalopes at Landon Arena.
Odessa (1-1-1) entered the final frame with a 4-2 lead, on the strength of three unanswered second period tallies.
The Pilots mounted a comeback attempt in the and outshot the Jackalopes 35-31 for the contest, but it was not quite enough to steal the game away.
“We battled the whole game, but some of the bounces and goals we gave up aren’t the way we want to play,” Pilots Head Coach Simon Watson said. “We didn’t pressure the puck the way we wanted, and Odessa made us pay.”
The first period started positive for Topeka, with forward Quinn Green notching two tallies in just over a minute, at 14:12 and 15:54, respectively. Green’s second goal came off a nice feed from forward Michael Muschitiello.
Before the end of the frame, forward Carl Skarstrom cut the Pilots’ lead to 2-1, beating goaltender Emil Gransoe at 19:36.
Gransoe finished the night with 27 saves on 31 shots, while his counterpart CJ Hapward stopped 32 of 35 shots.
The second period was all Odessa. Forward Vaclav Zidek capitalized with a powerplay goal at 4:47, knotting the score at two.
Forwards Rex Moe and Kyle Herbster then got in on the action, with goals at 11:25 and 13:06, pushing Odessa out in front 4-2.
In the third, Muschitiello cut the lead late, but Hapward stopped the other 22 shots of the period to preserve the victory.
With the three-game series with Odessa in the books, Topeka now shifts its focus to the 2018 NAHL Showcase. Each NAHL team will compete in four games in four days, beginning September 19th. The Pilots kick off the tournament against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights. Puck drop will be at 1pm CST.
“We’re definitely going to take the positives out of this weekend and head on to the showcase,” Watson said. “We’re going to go there as a cohesive group, and we’re ready for the challenge.”
With a lot of new faces to the NAHL on the Pilots’ roster, Watson said the showcase will help his players acclimate to the season’s schedule and will give them a taste of the talent around the league.
“It will be seven games in 10 days, and we’re ready for it,” Watson said. “This is what we condition for, so I’m excited to see how we respond.”