By: Chris Greene | Follow me on Twitter @cgreenesports
As Thanksgiving weekend draws to a close, the Gladiators should be in good spirits after ending their four-game losing streak Wednesday night with a 3-2 overtime win against the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. With some key players returning from injury this week, the Gladiators looked in much better form than they have recently, but there’s still a lot of work ahead for the boys. Unfortunately, despite a vastly improved performance from the defense, they came up short against the Stingrays Friday night, losing 3-2. These results leave the Glads with a 5-9-2 record, and bottom of the south division by three points.
On Wednesday night the Greenville Swamp Rabbits arrived at the Infinite Energy Arena for a south division show down. Forward, Brandon Troock, was back into the lineup after recovering from an injury and forward, Matt Lane, was back after a stint in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals. The Gladiators started the game positively, dominating the possession and testing of Garrett Bartus, the Greenville netminder, with a lot of shots. Despite the early pressure, Michael Pelech put the Swamp Rabbits ahead on their first real opportunity in the game. The first period ended 1-0 with the Glads forcing 23 saves from Bartus.
The second period started in similar fashion to first, with Atlanta controlling the game but unable to score. After 11 minutes, disaster struck as John May doubled Greenville’s lead. Despite their recent poor form, the Gladiators responded excellently just a minute later as Matt Lane marked his return with a brilliant goal. Despite being the better team, the Gladiators still trailed until Garret Ross leveled the game with 40 seconds left in the period, assisted by Zach Malatesta and Matt Lane.
Greenville rallied for the start of the third period and looked like a different team, controlling the early exchanges and forcing Svoboda to make some great saves. Momentum shifted to the Glads when Chad Duchesne was sent to the box for Greenville, giving Atlanta a great opportunity to wrestle into the lead. Zach Malatesta fired the Gladiators into a 3-2 lead. With just over five minutes left on the clock, Atlanta faced a tough test, desperate to cling on for a much-needed win. Greenville threw everything they had, pulling Bartus out of the net with one last roll of the dice. The move paid off, with Austen Brassard scoring in the final minute of the game. The Gladiators players looked devastated, despite being the better team for most of the game, they were headed into the dreaded overtime.
Jeff Pyle called his men together for some words of encouragement before overtime began, the Gladiators had fought hard for their point, but anything less then a win after a strong performance would be crushing for this team. The Glads started with Danford forcing a save from Bartus early before an absolute rocket from new signing Dan Olivieri flew into the net, stunning the Swamp Rabbits and sparking huge celebrations from the Atlanta bench. Finally, a win for the Gladiators.
Boosted by their first win in five games, Atlanta took on the South Carolina Stingrays in the second and final game of the week on Friday night. Svoboda was given the start again between the pipes, and there was a real sense of optimism at the Infinite Energy Arena. The Gladiators took an early lead through Brett McKenzie who was assisted by Branden Troock and Jesse Gabrielle. Both sides continued to exchange shots before Tad Kozun put the Stingrays on board, the first period ending 1-1. The Gladiators gave up multiple penalties throughout the second period as the Stingrays started to control the game. The Atlanta penalty kill stood firm as the clock wound down. With just a minute left, Patrick Gaul put the Stingrays ahead, the second frame ended 2-1 to South Carolina. Atlanta was back onto the penalty kill almost as soon as the third period began, Jake Flegal called for high sticking. Grant Besse scored SC’s third goal of the night to put the game beyond the Gladiators. Branden Troock managed to pull one back for the Gladiators, but his effort was in vain, 3-2 the final score.
Despite the loss to the Stingrays, the Gladiators looked vastly improved. The win against Greenville was much needed, and although they lost against South Carolina, the defense looks to be improving. Atlanta’s next game is Friday night at home to the Swamp Rabbits again. They have a chance to regroup and recover, work on some issues in training and hopefully can build some momentum for the rest of the season, as they aim to build a playoff run.