By: Chris Greene | Follow me on Twitter @cgreenesports
The Atlanta Gladiators kicked off 2019 with an unlikely win in a difficult three-game road trip against the Florida Everblades. It was a true team performance to seal the win against the league leaders, with everyone stepping up and playing their part. The results leave the Gladiators last in the South Division, but the win gives them a foundation to build on for the second half of the season.
On Wednesday night, the Gladiators went toe-to-toe with the Florida Everblades for the first of three games in the sunshine state. Sean Bonar, who ended 2018 in great form, was given the start between the pipes for the Glads. Atlanta started bravely and looked confident against the Everblades, managing to avoid any mistakes. Florida also defended well, and the first period ended with no score. The Everblades eventually broke through, with second-period goals from Patrick McCarron and Justin Auger.
The Gladiators fought on, and Nolan LaPorte cut Florida’s lead in half with a power-play goal early in the third. He was assisted by Oliver Galipeau and Brett McKenzie. The Glads pushed for a game-tying score but were unable to find one before Kyle Platzer bagged Florida’s third of the night. Atlanta pulled Bonar off the ice with one last roll of the dice, but Nathan Perkovich poked in an empty-netter to seal the game for the Everblades. 4-1 the final score.
The teams faced off again on Friday night for game two of the series. Coach Pyle kept his faith in Sean Bonar, who assumed his position in the crease. Atlanta once again came into the game fearlessly and looked like the better team in the opening period, they had chances to take the lead, but the game remained scoreless by the end of the first period. The Everblades came flying into the second frame, dominating the early exchanges and taking the lead through Blake Winiecki.
The Gladiators were awarded a power play and took full advantage, Nolan LaPorte the scorer, assisted by Joel Messner and Dave Mazurek. New signing Luke Stork then stepped up with his first professional goal to put Atlanta ahead, he was assisted by Vytal Cote. The Everblades threw everything at the Glads in the third period, but they couldn’t beat Sean Bonar and the resolute defense in front of him. The Gladiators held on for a fully deserved 2-1 win.
It was a Saturday night showdown for the third and final game of the week between the Glads and the Everblades. New signing, Michael Bitzer, was given the start in net for Atlanta, in what proved to be a baptism of fire for the young goaltender. There was a lot of chatter between both teams before Zach Malatesta dropped the gloves with Florida’s Tommy Thompson, just two minutes into the game. Moments later, the Everblades had the lead with a goal from Ben Masella, ending the first period 1-0. The penalties kept coming for both teams, and 36 seconds into the second frame, the Glads pounced on a power play opportunity and Brett McKenzie tied the game, assisted by Olivier Galipeau and Justin MacDonald.
The rest of the second period was dominated by the Everblades, who scored four goals before the next intermission. Joe Cox, Logan Roe, Blake Winiecki, and Josh Wesley all tallied to give Florida a huge 5-1 lead heading into the third. Olivier Galipeau bagged himself a power-play goal for the Gladiators, assisted by Zach Malatesta and Nolan LaPorte. The effort was in vain, as Michael Neville and Justin Auger put the game well beyond Atlanta’s reach with two more, 7-2 the final score.