The Topeka Pilots were looking to respond on Saturday night, after a disappointing outcome in Friday night’s contest with the Springfield Jr. Blues
They had to be happy with a big effort on Saturday.
Topeka (26-11-3) used two early goals to take control and never gave up the lead, winning 5-2 to split the weekend series with Springfield, in front of 1,111 fans at Landon Arena.
The victory propels Topeka back into third place in the NAHL South Division, retaking that ranking from the Shreveport Mudbugs, who were dormant on the weekend.
The Pilots played big and physical, taking their bodies to the Jr. Blues, who like to play with a lot of speed.
“We needed to slow Springfield down a little bit,” Pilots head coach Simon Watson said. “I think our physicality took over and set the tone for the game. It started with a big hit during the first shift by Connor Zilisch, and we didn’t let off from there.”
The Pilots took an early lead 37 seconds into the game, with forward Matt Clark taking a nice feed and beating goaltender Ryan Wilson for his fifth goal of the season and second goal with the Pilots.
Forward Nick Nardecchia made it 2-0 with a powerplay goal at 2:51, as a pass from defenseman Jordan Kovacs went straight to Nardecchia, who redirected it past Wilson.
Springfield cut the lead at 7:43 of the first, as forward Aaron Swanson netted his 11th of the season, but the Pilots were ready to respond.
Late in the first, Swedish-native forward Alexander Oberg picked up his third goal of the season, the eventual game-winner. Oberg took a feed from forward Matthew Francois on the play, who was playing in his first game since Jan. 4.
Taking a 3-1 lead into first intermission, the Pilots extended the lead out to 4-1 at 15:45 of the second period, netting a big goal to give Topeka breathing room entering the the third.
Forward Quinn Green had the tally, as he extended his goal streak to five straight games, bringing him to 15 goals on the season, which leads the Pilots.
Some late period fisticuffs also resulted in two game misconducts with Pilots defenseman Vincent Corcoran picking up his first fighting major of the season, tussling with Jr. Blues forward Jackson Salt.
Pilots forward Shawn Kennedy finished off the scoring for Topeka just 1:43 into the third, with Kennedy’s ninth of the season. On the play, Kennedy fired the puck on net, as it ricocheted off of a Jr. Blues stick and snuck past Wilson.
The Jr. Blues cut it to 5-2 at 7:58, but would get no closer.
Topeka returns to action next weekend on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, as they face the New Mexico Ice Wolves in a two-game series at Landon Arena. Topeka will be looking to avenge two losses to the Ice Wolves back on Nov. 8-9.