By: Chris Greene | Follow me on Twitter @cgreenesports
The Gladiators recovered from a tough loss in Orlando with two wins against Kansas City and Greenville to keep their playoff hopes alive. The results leave Atlanta just two points behind South Carolina in the race for the final South Division playoff spot. With only seven games remaining, every point is crucial.
Atlanta started the week on the road to Orlando. Sean Bonar was the starting goaltender. He was tested early by two power plays from the home side, and the Solar Bears found the net soon after, with goals from Colby McAuley and Otto Somppi, giving them a comfortable two-goal lead at the end of the first period. The misery continued for Atlanta in the second, Brent Pendersen and Chris LeBlanc both scored, prompting Jeff Pyle to replace Bonar with backup goalie, Michael Bitzer. Nolan LaPorte scored late in the second, thanks to an assist from Brett McKenzie. His goal was over-shadowed by Cody Donaghey, who scored to extend Orlando’s lead back to four goals. Neither side could find the net in the final frame, and the game ended 5-1 to the Solar Bears.
The Gladiators returned home to take on the Kansas City Mavericks for game two of the week. Sean Bonar was given the chance to redeem himself as the starter, but it was the visitors who struck first. Rocco Carzo opened the scoring on the power play for Kansas City. Atlanta responded quickly with a goal from Tyson Fawcett, his first as a Gladiator, assisted by Avery Peterson. The Mavericks crept ahead with just six seconds left in the first period, with an equal strength goal from Darian Dziurzynski.
It was ‘Super Hero Night’ at the Infinite Energy Center, and the Glads needed saving. Veteran forward, Derek Nesbitt, stepped up and scored his first of the night, assisted by Nick Bligh and Zach Malatesta. With the game wide open, Greg Betzold put Kansas City back into the lead, 3-2 the score after two. Determined to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Gladiators came out fighting in the final frame. The Mavericks defense stood firm for 16 minutes but Matt Lane finally leveled the score for Atlanta, with help from Nesbitt and Jack Stander. Just 14 seconds after tying the score, Nesbitt pounced on a defensive error to fire the Glads into the lead with the game-winning goal. A dramatic end to a great game of hockey, 4-3 the final score.
The Gladiators finished the week at home against the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. Bonar started the game and the Glads set out to secure a win and keep the pressure on South Carolina. Danny Elser put Greenville ahead with the only goal of the first period. The Swamp Rabbits were the better team in the second, but a goal from Jake Flegal tied the score 1-1. He was assisted by Brett McKenzie and Avery Peterson. With both sides level at the final intermission, the stage was set for an exciting third period.
Atlanta struck first with a power play goal from Joseph Widmar, assisted by Brady Fleurent and Matt Lane. Both teams continued to have chances as the clock ticked on. In the dying moments, Lane scored the winning goal with help from Nesbitt and Jack Stander. Brendan Harms pulled one back for the Swamp Rabbits with seconds remaining in the game, but it was not enough to stop the Glads from securing a 3-2 win.