By: Chris Greene | Follow me on Twitter @cgreenesports
The Gladiators return from their road trip to South Dakota triumphant. After winning two of the three games against the Rapid City Rush, Atlanta has closed the gap on the South Carolina Stingrays to just one point. Despite losing some key players to Providence before the road trip, the Glads stuck together and will be pleased with their four-point haul.
Sean Bonar was given the start between the pipes for game one, hoping to bounce back from a slight dip in form the previous week. Atlanta took an early lead with a goal from Nick Bligh, assisted by Joe Widmar and Avery Peterson. The Glads looked comfortable in the first period, but the Rush improved in the second. Eventually, the home team leveled the score with a tally from Justin Faryna. A win was on the cards for both teams heading into the final period, and after a flurry of chances, defenseman Zach Malatesta stepped up and scored the game-winner for Atlanta. He was assisted by Joe Widmar and Luke Stork. 2-1 the final score.
After making 23 saves from 24 shots in game one, Atlanta stuck with Sean Bonar as the starter for round two. The Glads controlled the opening frame and eventually took the lead with a power-play goal from Nolan LaPorte, assisted by Daniel Leavens and Olivier Galipeau. Rapid City’s discipline continued to cause them problems in the second period. Atlanta doubled the lead with a second power-play goal, this time it was Justin MacDonald with the score, assisted by Nick Bligh and Avery Peterson. The home side gave up a third power-play goal just moments later, as Alex Overhardt slotted home with helpers from Olivier Galipeau and Nolan LaPorte. The Rush had a mountain to climb in the third period. After throwing everything at Atlanta, they couldn’t beat Sean Bonar. Justin MacDonald wrapped up the shutout win with an empty-netter in the closing stages. 4-0 the final score. It was Coach Pyle’s 500th win as an ECHL coach, he became the second person in league history to achieve the milestone.
Michael Bitzer was given the start against his former team for the third and final game of the week, but it was a difficult night for the second-year netminder. It was the Rush who scored first with Zach Fischer getting on the board midway through the first period. Moments later, former Gladiator Darby Llewellyn found the net to double Rapid City’s lead, before Zach Fischer scored his second of the night on the power play, making the score 3-0. This prompted the Glads to pull Bitzer in favor of Bonar with just under a minute remaining in the first frame.
Atlanta had a lot of work to do heading into the second period and scored quickly after Nick Bligh was set up by Filip Pyrochta and Joe Widmar. Despite heavily out-shooting Rapid City, the Glads could not add to their tally in what proved to be a very frustrating period. Atlanta continued to put pressure on the home team during the third period, and eventually found a second goal, Matt Lane the scorer, assisted by Pyrochta and Malatesta. As the clock ticked down, the Glads looked certain to level the score before Cedric Montminy tucked home an empty-netter for the hosts, ending the game 4-2 to the Rush. It was a bitter pill to swallow for Atlanta, who out-shot Rapid City 40-17.