With strong special teams play and stout goaltending, the Topeka Pilots got it done Friday against the Lone Star Brahmas.
Topeka (13-4-2) held Lone Star (12-4-1) scoreless on five powerplay opportunities and picked up a timely powerplay goal of their own late in the second period off the stick of forward Connor Zilisch, to take a 2-1 lead into the last 20 minutes.
Then, in the third period, the Pilots added two insurance tallies from forwards Kaiden Scott and Alexander Oberg, winning 4-1 at Landon Arena.
Against a prolific Brahmas powerplay that ranked second in the NAHL coming into the contest, Pilots head coach Simon Watson said special teams made a huge difference in Friday’s game.
“We knew with how well they (Lone Star) are coached and structured that the game would be a battle,” Watson said. “We held to our game plan, and then special teams really made the difference.”
And for the Pilots, whose powerplay has struggled a bit out of the gate this season, tallying a goal on the man-advantage was crucial.
“We were able to get one there on the powerplay, almost two with one of the goals coming as a penalty expired,” Watson said. “That was a big confidence boost for our group.”
The game-winning goal was scored on the powerplay at 19:11 of the second period. Forward Connor Zilisch deflected a shot from defenseman Luc Salem past goaltender Cayden Bailey, putting the Pilots up 2-1 heading into the third.
“It was a defensive game, so any time a powerplay chance comes, we want to take advantage,” Watson said.
Forward Quinn Green opened the scoring in the first period, knocking a no-look backhander past Bailey at 8:36 of the first. Green’s tally was his fifth of the season.
Lone Star responded back at 17:55, with forward Noah Roofe netting his fourth of the season, beating goaltender Guy Blessing. Blessing stopped 22 of 23 shots on the evening, to improve to 4-1-0.
The game remained even until Zilisch’s goal broke the tie late in the second period.
Scott gave the Pilots some breathing room, with his one-timer from the slot beating Bailey. Forward Matthew Francois earned the primary assist, dishing a pass to Scott from behind the net, who rifled it home.
Oberg then put it away late, netting a shorthanded emptynet goal at 19:13 to make it 4-1 Pilots.
The two teams tangle again at 7:05 p.m. Saturday night on Military Appreciation Night. All active or past military members can purchase $5 tickets, with a valid military ID.