By: Chris Greene | Follow me on Twitter @cgreenesports
The Atlanta Gladiators head into the Christmas break full of confidence after snapping their ten-game losing streak. The players really gave the fans something to cheer about with strong performances in back to back home games this week. With 27 games into the 2018-19 campaign, the Glads record is 6-15-5-1 and sit second to last in the ECHL with 18 points. The season hasn’t gone according to plan, but with key players back in the fold, the Gladiators have a foundation to build on in the new year.
The first of three back to back home games began on Wednesday night when the Greenville Swamp Rabbits came to town. Colton Phinney was given the start in goal to begin the homestand for Atlanta. The Glads were pressured early on, but they successfully killed two penalties before Brett McKenzie fired them into the lead with a power-play goal. Atlanta held the lead until four minutes into the second period, when Tomas Ebbing leveled for Greenville.
Both teams exchanged shots but there were no more goals in the frame. After the second interval, Nick Bligh put Atlanta ahead just 33 seconds after the puck dropped, assisted by Olivier Galipeau. The Gladiators were unable to add to their tally before two quick goals from John May and Will Merchant put Greenville up 3-2. Despite dominating the closing minutes, Atlanta was unable to tie the game and the Swamp Rabbits took the two points.
Thursday night the Glads faced the Jacksonville Icemen for the first of two games between the sides. Sean Bonar was given the start in net and Glads set about ending their 10 game slide. The Atlanta power play looked better with Olivier Galipeau back in the team, but they were unable to beat Jacksonville’s penalty kill. The Glads finally got the break-through in the second period, when Derek Nesbitt slotted home, assisted by NHL veteran Jared Ross.
Jack Stander doubled the Gladiators lead with his first professional goal before Zach Malatesta completed the second-period demolition with Atlanta’s third goal of the night. Jacksonville threw everything they had at the Glads in the final period. They pulled goalie Mikhail Berdin to get an extra skater on the ice, which allowed Jesse Gabrielle to put Atlanta ahead 4-0, ending the game in style. It was a complete performance from the Gladiators. Not only was it the teams first win in nearly a month, but they recorded a shutout in the process.
The stage was set for the Friday night rematch with Jacksonville and what a great game it was. Atlanta kept their faith in Sean Bonar who took his spot in the crease. The Icemen controlled the early exchanges but the Gladiators took the lead through Justin MacDonald. Atlanta looked more comfortable after the goal but the Icemen kept up the pressure, Kris Newbury managed to find the net just 10 seconds before the end of the first period, 1-1 the score at the break. The second period was barely under-way before Jacksonville snagged the lead through Garrett Ladd. Coach Pyle ensured the Glads kept their heads up.
Minutes later Atlanta was awarded a power play, Jesse Gabrielle took full advantage and tied the game with his second goal of the week. 15 seconds later Nick Bligh gave Atlanta the lead, capping off a wild three minutes. For the second night in a row, the Icemen through everything at the Glads, eventually tying the game with another goal from Kris Newbury. Atlanta responded well, forcing saves from Tanner Jaillet before Maxime Fortier scored what would be the winning goal for Jacksonville. The played well throughout the third period but couldn’t find another goal, the game finished 4-3 to Jacksonville.
The Gladiators can enjoy some time off to rest and reflect before they’re back in action next week to finish 2018. The win will give them a huge confidence boost, they’ve been playing well for some time and they’ve proved that they’re capable of competing in the South Division. The playoffs hopes are all but gone, but the team finally has a foundation to build on for the rest of the season. All that remains is for me to wish you a very merry Christmas Glads fans, enjoy yourselves.