By: Chris Greene | Follow me on Twitter @cgreenesports
The Atlanta Gladiators secured five points from three games in a what proved to be a good week for the Duluth based team. With 10 games remaining, the Glads are now level on points with the South Carolina Stingrays for the final playoff spot. Every game is crucial, and the Gladiators are rising to the challenge.
The South Carolina Stingrays were Atlanta’s first opponent of the week. After an impressive run of games, the Glads started Sean Bonar in net. With both teams fighting for the final playoff spot, the pressure was intense. South Carolina scored first, Mason Mitchell put the visitors ahead with the only goal of the first period. Midway through the second, the Stingrays doubled their lead after Jordan Samuel-Thomas beat Bonar. Four minutes later, the ‘Rays were three goals ahead, after Mitchell snagged his second goal of the night. Atlanta responded immediately, forward Brett McKenzie pulled one back for the hosts, assisted by Zach Malatesta. 3-1 the score after two.
Despite out-shooting South Carolina in the first two periods, the Gladiators had a lot of work to do in the third. It took five minutes for Matt Lane to get Atlanta within one, he was assisted by Zach Malatesta and Nolan LaPorte. Atlanta continued to pressure the Stingrays, and it finally paid off. Nick Bligh scored to tie the game at 3-3, Derek Nesbitt and Olivier Galipeau combined for the assists. The game went into overtime, and after a tense five minutes, the score remained tied. Both teams had to prepare for a shootout. Andrew Cherniwchan scored for the Stingrays, and Brett McKenzie found the net for Atlanta to make it 1-1 after three attempts each. After a series of misses from both teams, Alex Overhardt scored in the 11th round of the shootout before a save from Bonar secured a stunning comeback win for the Gladiators.
Game two saw the Florida Everblades come to town for the final time in the regular season. Following his heroics in the shootout, Atlanta stuck with Bonar as the starting goaltender. He was tested early by a Florida power play, but the Glads stood firm. The home team took the lead midway through the first period, with a goal from Nolan LaPorte, Matt Lane, and Zach Malatesta was credited with the helpers. The Gladiators held onto their one-goal lead until the second period, when Shane Walsh leveled for Florida. Neither team could find a second goal, even after overtime, so for the second game in a row, a shootout would determine the winner. Blake Winiecki beat Bonar to win the game for Florida, but the Glads came away with a crucial point.
The Glads took on the Norfolk Admirals for the third and final game of the week. After a string of good performances, Bonar started again. The game remained scoreless until the second period when LaPorte put the Glads ahead with an assist from John Furgele. Norfolk leveled the score with a power-play goal from Domenic Alberga, ending the second period 1-1. Both teams had chances to take the lead in the third, but it was Atlanta that pulled ahead. Nick Bligh scored the game-winning goal, assisted by Derek Nesbitt. 2-1 the final score, capping off a solid week for the Gladiators.