With the game up for the taking, the Topeka Pilots made the most of the final 20 minutes Saturday night.
Tied at two after two, Topeka (17-16-5) capitalized with two big goals in the third period, then played stout defense in front of goaltender Emil Gransoe late, winning 4-3 at Landon Arena in front of 1,053 fans.
Forward Quinn Green gave the Pilots a 3-2 lead at 3:27 of the third period. On a 3-on-1 break, forward Joel Brandinger fed the Puck across to Green, who buried a shot from the slot. It was Green’s 16th goal of the season.
The game-winning goal then came at 12:26 of the third, off the stick of forward Brendan Schultz. On the play, Schultz stole the puck from Odessa defenseman Kevin Theraldson near center ice.
Poking the puck past Theraldson, Schultz skated in on a breakway and roofed a shot past goaltender Kade Phipps, for a 4-2 lead. Schultz’s goal was his eighth of the year.
“It was nice to get that one in,” Schultz said. “I had the puck on my stick a lot tonight, and I finally shot the puck instead of playing with it.”
Odessa cut the lead to one goal with a screened shot from defenseman Patrick Dawson beating Gransoe at 14:34, but the Pilots staved off the Jackalopes late.
“I loved our resiliency tonight and the way our group competed,” Pilots coach Simon Watson said. “We battled all night.”
With the win, Topeka moves one point from tying for the fourth place slot in the NAHL South Division and three points from tying for second place.
“This is a big weekend for our club,” Watson said. “We know how much is on the line with these points.”
Despite outshooting the Jackalopes 13-7, the Pilots found themselves down 2-0 after one period in the books Saturday night.
Topeka battled back in the second period, opening their scoring at 3:27. Forward Hugh Quinn notched seventh of the season, taking a nice feed from forward Matthew Francois and beating Phipps over his blocker.
Forward Kyler Yeo then evened the game at two with a nifty tally at 10:16. Yeo hustled in on a partial breakaway and flipped a shot past Phipps for his fifth goal of the season. He also had two assists on the night.
“Kyler had a big game tonight for us,” Watson said. “Our guys clicked tonight and really fed off each other.”
The two teams will battle one more time in a 2:05 p.m. matinee on Sunday, with Topeka looking to go undefeated in the three-game series.