By: Chris Greene | Follow me on Twitter @cgreenesports
The Gladiators march into week 18 with a nine-game point streak after three straight wins against Greenville, Florida, and Orlando. The results have boosted Atlanta six points above last place and the team are starting to reel in the rest of the South Division. The Glads will play four times this week, starting with a visit to Greenville on Monday night. The players will have some rest before three back to back games, two at home to South Carolina followed by a trip to Norfolk.
The Gladiators are in the best form of the season, but it has taken a lot of personnel changes to get to this point. It was announced over the weekend that forward David Mazurek had been released from the team. He managed five points (2g, 3a) in 17 games for Atlanta, including an assist in last weeks win over Florida, but it wasn’t enough to keep him in coach Pyle’s plans. In other news, Atlanta activated defenseman Kyle Chatham from reserve in place of defenseman Jake Flegal who heads onto the reserve list.
Atlanta’s first opponent of the week is the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, who recently replaced the Glads as the worst team in the ECHL. The Gladiators demolished Greenville 4-0 last week in dominant fashion and will be looking to start the week with another win. The Swamp Rabbits will have the advantage of playing at home, but the Glads have won their last two games at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, this does not look good for Greenville.
After two days of rest, the Gladiators will host the South Carolina Stingrays for back to back games on Thursday and Friday night. It will be the eighth and ninth time the two sides have faced off this season. The Stingrays won the first six games against the Glads with Atlanta winning the last encounter in overtime. In fact, three of those games went into overtime, and five were won by just one goal. The Stingrays are currently second in the South Division, and the two games against them will be a good measure at just how much Atlanta has improved. Last weeks win over Florida proves that the Glads are more than capable of beating the best, the challenge will be to do it on a consistent basis. These are two important games for Atlanta.
The Glads will take on the Norfolk Admirals on Saturday for the fourth and final game of the week. The Admirals lead the head to head series 4-3, and it will be the first meeting between the teams since December last year. Based on current form, Atlanta would normally be favorites, but the burden of three back to back games will take its toll. The Glads have pulled off some impressive wins lately, but Norfolk should be taking the points in this one.
Heading into week 18, the Gladiators are now eight points away from a playoff spot. A season-high 10,243 spectators turned up to watch the Orlando game, the fans are starting to get behind their team. There is still a lot of work to be done in order to get there, but the team is heading in the right direction.
This Week’s Gladiators To Watch:
Joseph Widmar: After taking a few games to settle into his new team, the second-year forward has scored eight points (3g, 5a) in eight games, including a dramatic last gasp goal against the Solar Bears last week. With four games crammed into this week, the offense will have to share the workload, expect him to contribute.
Nick Bligh: After a short spell off the scoresheet, Bligh found the net against Orlando last week and added an assist to his tally on the night. Atlanta is playing well and he, like many of his offensive peers, is going to be an important player this week.
Nolan LaPorte: Certainly one of Atlanta’s unsung heroes, LaPorte has scored 23 points in 31 games for the Glads this season. He bagged two goals against Greenville last week and will be looking to add to his tally this week, watch him closely.