By: Chris Greene | Follow me on Twitter @cgreenesports
Defensive woes returned for the Atlanta Gladiators this weekend, three consecutive defeats leave the team in dire straights. The Glads are now winless in their last six games, the gap at the bottom of the South Division has stretched to nine points. At 5-12-4 on the season, the numbers suggest that the team has given up, but that is not the case. Though the results have been poor, coach Pyle’s men are working extremely hard, they came agonizingly close to a win this weekend.
The weekend began with the Glads taking on the Orlando Solar Bears at the Infinite Energy Arena on Friday night. Showing off their new black uniforms, the Gladiators were desperate for a win. Orlando took an early lead through Troy Bourke before Tanner Pond announced his return to Atlanta with his first goal of the season in the middle of the first period. Both teams continued to exchange shots but were tied at the first intermission. Derek Nesbitt put the Glads ahead four minutes into the second frame, before a flurry of goals from Mathieu Foget, Brady Shaw and Troy Bourke, his second of the night, gave the Solar Bears a comfortable lead. Tanner Pond doubled his goal tally moments before the end of the second period, 4-3 the score at the break. Cody Donaghey restored Orlando’s two-goal advantage in the third period. Forward Brett McKenzie managed to pull one back for Atlanta, but it wasn’t enough, the Solar Bears winning the contest 5-4.
On Saturday night the Gladiators traveled to the North Charleston Coliseum to take on the South Carolina Stingrays. Colton Phinney was given the start between the pipes and did well to keep the puck out of his net for the first period, 0-0 the score at the end of the first. Branden Troock and Jake Flegal gave Atlanta a rare two-goal lead early in the second period, and the Glads looked comfortable for the first time in a long time. Matt Pohlkamp scored a crucial goal for the Stingrays moments before the second intermission to keep his team in the game. Just five minutes into the final period of regulation, Branden Troock scored his second of the night, putting the Glads up 3-1. The lead didn’t last long, two quick goals from Cameron Askew tied the game 3-3, and the contest went into overtime. Tad Kozun scored the winner to complete a remarkable comeback for the Stingrays, a tough result for Atlanta but a crucial point earned for their efforts.
After a close game on Saturday, the stage was set perfectly for a rematch. On Sunday the Stingrays traveled to Duluth for Atlanta’s third and final game of the weekend. Nolan LaPorte put the Glads ahead inside the first minute, much to the delight of the home crowd. Tad Kozun leveled the score before Jonathan Charbonneau edged the Stingrays into the lead. Shane Eiserman continued his good form against the Gladiators, his goal extending the lead to 3-1. Brett McKenzie and David Mazurek both scored for Atlanta to leave the game evenly poised at 3-3 heading into the final period. Mike Chen restored South Carolina’s lead before LaPorte bagged his second goal of the night, tying the game at 4-4. Tad Kozun scored again to put the Stingrays ahead before LaPorte completed his hat-trick for Atlanta. Incredibly the score was 5-5 with less than five minutes left on the clock. With both teams desperate to steal the win, Cameron Askew bagged one more goal for the Stingrays, ending a fantastic game of hockey 6-5, another defeat for Atlanta.
On Monday, the Gladiators announced that forward Tanner Pond had been recalled to the Providence Bruins. He made an instant impact during his short spell back with the team, and he will be missed. Despite his departure, there are encouraging signs for the Atlanta Gladiators. Though the defense had a tough weekend, the offense is firing on all cylinders. As the old saying goes, you can’t win if you can’t score. The Gladiators will need the likes of LaPorte, Troock, Nesbitt, and McKenzie in good scoring form to get back to winning ways. Their contributions will dictate the results moving forward. There’s plenty of hockey still to play.