Back on home ice for the first time in over a month, the Topeka Pilots had their work cut out for them on Friday night against the Kenai River Brown Bears.
Topeka (8-4-0) held a 3-1 advantage in the third period, after a goal halfway through the frame from forward Dallas Tulik. Tulik had two goals on the night, bringing him to nine on the season, which currently leads the NAHL.
They looked to be in the driver’s seat.
Late in the contest, however, the Kenai River (7-5-1) turned up the pressure. A one-timer off the stick of forward Connor Scahill beat goaltender Emil Gransoe at 18:07, cutting the Pilots’ lead to 3-2.
With the intensity heightened, Gransoe and his counterparts faced a barrage of chances but held off the Brown Bears the final two minutes of the contest, hanging on for a 3-2 win at Landon Arena.
“There were a couple of breakdowns that allowed Kenai River to get back into the game, but I thought overall, our grit and resiliency was top notch tonight,” Pilots head coach Simon Watson said. “We stayed the course and got it done.”
Both teams came out strong physically on Friday, with heavy hitting and hard checks abound in the first period.
It was Topeka who broke through first, with forward Kaiden Scott picking up his first goal of the season at 14:54 of the period. Scott’s goal came on a one-timer off a nice dish from forward Brendan Schultz, beating goaltender Dennis Westergard high on the glove side.
Tulik doubled the lead for Topek at 12:45 of the second period, with a goal just seven seconds into a Pilots’ powerplay, after Kenai River was booked for too many men on the ice at 12:38.
“I liked our compete level on the powerplay tonight,” Watson said. “We did a good job of managing the puck and creating quality chances.”
Late in the period, the Brown Bears grabbed some momentum heading into the third period. Scahill scored his first of two goals on the night at 18:07, making it 2-1 after two.
The two game-series wraps up at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Landon Arena. The first 1,000 kids 12 and under in attendance will receive a free youth jersey.
“Tonight was a great atmosphere, and we can’t wait for tomorrow night to see the energy level in the building,” Watson said.