Providence Bruins Recall Goalie Prospect Kyle Keyser

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(Photo: Michael Penhollow / Boston Bruins)

By: Patrick Donnelly | Follow me on Twitter @PatDonn12

Providence Bruins general manager John Ferguson Jr. announced Thursday afternoon that the team has recalled goaltending prospect Kyle Keyser from the Atlanta Gladiators, Boston’s ECHL-affiliate. Providence recalling Keyser comes after Dan Vladar needed to be helped off the ice during the second period of the P-Bruins’ 5-4 shootout loss to the Laval Rocket on Wednesday night.

Keyser was slated to start the year in Atlanta, whose season opens up on October 18th. However, Vladar’s week-to-week status caused a change of plans. Keyser signed his entry-level contract with Boston on October 3, 2017, as an undrafted free agent.

The Oshawa Generals product is entering his first full season of professional hockey after four seasons in the OHL, one with the Flint Firebirds and three with Oshawa. Last season, the 20-year-old suited up in 47 games for the Generals, posting a .915 save percentage and a 2.75 goals-against average (GAA). In 15 Memorial Cup playoff games for Oshawa, Keyser registered a .925 save percentage and 2.83 GAA.

After Oshawa was eliminated from the Memorial Cup, Keyser joined Providence leading up to the team’s playoff run. In one AHL playoff start the Coral Springs, Florida, native made 25 saves.

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound netminder also represented the United States at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, where he recorded a .872 save percentage and 2.95 GAA. Once he joins the team in Providence, Keyser is expected to split time with 26-year-old Maxime Lagace, who Boston signed as a free agent during the offseason.

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Report: Bruins Assign Forward Koppanen To ECHL Atlanta

( Photo Credit: Finnish Junior Hockey @FINjrhockey )

By: Mark Allred  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BlackAndGold277

Per RinksideRhodeIsland.com reporter Mark Divver and the AHL.com’s website transactions page, the Boston Bruins have assigned forward Joona Koppanen to the ECHL Atlanta Gladiators. The 21-year-old 6′-5″ 195-pound forward has only appeared in one game this season for the NHL Bruins top minor-pro affiliate Providence Bruins registering zero points and in Mark’s tweet below was in rotation for fourth-line centering duties where he was obviously overpassed by players earning more time.

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Koppanen, a Finnish born left shooting forward, has the ability to be a big presence either up the middle or on the left side but hasn’t exactly brought it offensively to the American Hockey League. Joona was selected in the fifth round of the 2016 National Hockey League Entry Draft and spent some time developing his skillset back home after being selected in the draft from Buffalo, New York. He spent two full seasons playing for the IIves organization with one season in the Jr. A SM-liiga and his second year in the higher Liiga Pro League. With the junior club, he posted 23-31-54 in 38 games playing with talent around his own age, but when he moved up to the pro league netted 2-12-14 numbers in 45 games. He left his llves club after his contract expired and joined the Providence Bruins team at the end of their 2017-18 campaign appearing in ten games and posting 2-0-2 numbers.

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Joona’s no stranger to the ECHL Atlanta club as he started the 2018-19 season appearing in seven games where he and former Boston Bruins prospect Jesse Gabrielle were assigned. Joona would eventually get the call back up to Providence after a one-point stint with the Gladiators and finished the season with 2-0-2 totals in 45 games in the higher AHL. As mentioned in Mark Divver’s Tweet above, this is a sold move to keep him game time fresh and paraphrasing here but could be given a bigger role with top 12 minutes that he might need to find a spark offensively. You have to learn to crawl before you walk, so if he gets on a roll and works hard, there’s no reason he couldn’t return to PVD after point streaking in the Coast.

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Bruins ECHL Affiliate: Atlanta Gladiators Sign Multiple Free Agents

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(Photo Credit: Offical ECHL Atlanta Gladiator’s Hockey Club)

By: Ian Frazier | Follow me on Twitter @ifrazier95

The Atlanta Gladiators have been quite busy with free-agent transactions, a few of which are big-ticket players. The ECHL affiliate of the Boston Bruins opened up the league’s free agency period by hitting the market signing several players. From forwards to defense, the Gladiators made many moves to bolster their roster for the 2019-20 season.

To start, the Gladiators signed a pair of free-agent forwards Anthony Collins and Logan Nelson. These two are no strangers to playing the Gladiators since last season they both played for their rivals the Indy Fuel. Collins, a 29-year-old forward out of Langley, British Columbia is about to play in his seventh season in the ECHL and first with Atlanta. Last season with the Fuel, Collins managed to score zero goals and record one point on one assist and 94 penalty minutes in thirty-one games played. He is being brought in to be a rotational forward who will serve as a bottom-six. Nelson, the 25-year-old gritty forward out of Rogers, Minnesota, spent the beginning of last year with the Orlando Solar Bears before being traded to the Indy Fuel. He recorded 16 goals, 25 assists for 41 points in 64 games during the 2018-19 season and was also a big factor in Indy’s Kelly Cup playoff push last spring.

On defense, the Gladiators locked up a pair of their in-house free agents by re-signing Zach Malatesta and Jack Stander to new contracts. Malatesta might sound familiar as he is a Boston native and played Junior Hockey for the Boston Jr. Bruins and is now playing for Atlanta. As he begins his third season with the club, he has six goals, 27 assists for 33 points in 108 games. He was very durable last season in which he played all 72 games of the ECHL season. Stander, the 24-year-old out of Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, played hockey at Canisius College in New York before transferring to Atlanta. Last season he scored three goals, with 12 assists totaling 15 points. Both of them are key members of the Gladiators defense, and it was imperative they get them locked up early as soon as possible.

A couple of big pieces were also added to the roster by signing defenseman Jake Flegel and forward Thomas Frazee. While Flegel returns from last year’s roster, Frazee is a big addition to the team. Flegel, the 27-year-old defenseman from Ajax in Ontario, Canada played at Adrien College in Michigan before he transferred to the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) and then the ECHL. After one game last season in the SPHL, he joined the Gladiators where he recorded three goals and added three assists for six points. Frazee, the 29-year-old forward from Vancouver, British Columbia is considered one of the bigger names on the market in ECHL free-agency this season. He was on the Gladiators during the 2015-16 season tallying 16 goals, 31 assists for 47 points in 71 games.

The following year he recorded a career-high 19 goals, with 20 assists totaling 39 points in 60 games before he went on loan to the San Antonio Rampage in the AHL. He entered the last offseason as a free agent and decided to sign back with Atlanta after fielding many offers from other teams. He put up 15 points in 12 games on 5 goals and 10 assists. Because of his dynamic ability to play as a team supporter, the Gladiators re-signed him this offseason after he tested free agency. Expect Frazee to get top-six minutes going forward in 2019-20.

The Gladiators were busy in free agency, and we will see how these players this upcoming season as the Gladiators hope to make a long postseason run after falling short of the playoffs last year.

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Bruins Renew Affiliation With The Atlanta Gladiators

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(Photo Credit: Amanda Bingham / gwinettdailypost.com)

By: Ian Frazier | Follow me on Twitter @ifrazier95

Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney announced today that the organization has renewed its affiliation with the Atlanta Gladiators for the 2019-20 season. The Bruins originally made the first affiliation agreement back in the 2015-16 season and now enter their third affiliation after 2017-18’s renewal with this announcement.

Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle states that “this affiliation with Boston and Providence has provided great support for all clubs involved, and we look forward to developing the relationship and providing good young players for depth from our side that can help all of us be successful as well as bring more Gladiators and Bruins fans together at matches.” Gladiators team president Jerry James states that the club is “excited to share great hockey history with Boston and be able to extend the fanbase in the Atlanta metro area and surrounding communities.”

The Gladiators first began as the Mobile Mystics located in Mobile, Alabama from 1995-2002. In 2003 the franchise relocated to Georgia where they played in Gwinnett County and therefore were renamed the Gwinnett Gladiators. That name might sound familiar to some as they were the ECHL affiliate of the Atlanta Thrashers back in the day. When the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets, the club changed their name to the Atlanta Gladiators to give Atlanta a hockey team that supports the growing community. They also served as the ECHL affiliate of the Blackhawks, Blue Jackets, Sabres, and Coyotes at one point. Also, both the South Carolina Stingrays and the Reading Royals served as the Bruin’s affiliates in the past

Because of this renewed affiliation, the Bruins can continue to designate players in their development system to the Gladiators. This should provide some much-needed development time for any prospects the Bruins feel they need to see more growth out of before they are ready to be called up to Providence. Keep in mind that the Bruins are not allowed to send down players from the NHL directly to the ECHL. They would have to choose which prospects in their development system to send to the ECHL. The prospects chosen are mostly ones that the Bruins don’t see being ready for the NHL, but they would like to keep them in their system. Therefore they can send them down to the ECHL to get some playing time. Many goalies in the system can be sent to the ECHL to develop “pro-like” skills and give the club something to keep an eye on down the road. Many goalies that have played in the NHL today have started their careers in the ECHL.
Sweeney says he “thanks the Gladiators franchise for the renewed affiliation and we like to extend our gratitude to the many associates of the ECHL club and we would like to thank the community of Duluth, Georgia for its unwavering support of the Gladiators and the Bruins.”

The Bruins should have some prospects in the system that don’t fit right now that would benefit spending a couple of seasons in the ECHL before they get a crack at Providence. One thing for sure is that the renewed Bruins/Gladiators affiliation should bring some more fans who live near Atlanta together as well as attract some new ones.

The Future Of The Boston Bruins ECHL Affiliation

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By: Chris Greene  |  Follow me on Twitter @cgreenesports

The Boston Bruins recently announced a 10 year extension with their AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins. It was a record agreement and a tribute to the successful partnership between the two teams, which Bruins president, Cam Neely, cited as a major factor in securing a long-term deal. With the AHL affiliation tied down until 2029, the B’s have yet to make a decision, at least publicly, on the agreement with current ECHL affiliate, the Atlanta Gladiators, which ends this season.

The Gladiators became the ECHL affiliate of both the Boston Bruins and the Providence Bruins after signing a two-year agreement in 2015. In February of 2017, the agreement was extended a further two years, securing the affiliation until the end of the current season. With the announcement of the 10 year extension with Providence back in March, many expected the B’s to follow-up with news on their relationship with Atlanta, but we are still waiting. With the Bruins focused on the Stanley Cup playoffs, an announcement on the future of the ECHL affiliation is unlikely until the team is finished on the ice.

Boston has a number of options, the most obvious would be to extend the affiliation with Atlanta. The Bruins have a number of goaltenders in their prospect pool and the ECHL is a great place for them to hone their skills. Providence goaltender Dan Vladar featured regularly for Atlanta in the 2017-18 campaign and with Kyle Keyser eligible for the pros next season, Atlanta would be an ideal spot for him to continue his development. Throughout the regular season, as players were summoned from Providence to Boston, Atlanta reinforced Providence with the likes of Tanner Pond and Sean Bonar, while giving regular playing time to Olivier Galipeau, Joel Messner and Brett McKenzie. The fundamental role of a minor-pro affiliate is to support the senior teams, Atlanta has certainly fulfilled that role for the Bruins.

It is possible that the Bruins part ways with Atlanta. If they do, there are currently two independent ECHL teams that they could partner with, the Greenville Swamp Rabbits or the Rapid City Rush. Geographically this would not make much sense, as neither team is close to New England. Unless the B’s plan on bringing the affiliation closer to home, it would be a shame to sever ties with Atlanta after building a close relationship with them, only to start over with another team based so far away.

It was reported earlier in the season that the Manchester Monarchs are seeking new ownership, casting doubt on their future. This creates a potential opportunity for the Bruins to step in and replace the LA Kings as the senior affiliate. It would make sense to have an affiliate closer to both Boston and Providence to reduce travel between the teams, making it easier for players to move up and down and allowing the organization to keep a closer eye on prospects. Perhaps a relationship with the Bruins would help the Monarchs, who have seen their attendance decline since they were switched to the ECHL. This is of course speculation, for now the Monarchs are still affiliated with the LA Kings, though things could change quickly with new ownership.

If the Bruins were to end the affiliation with Atlanta, expect the Glads to strike a deal with the Nashville Predators organisation. The Gladiators have worked closely with the Nashville’s AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals this season. Atlanta coach, Jeff Pyle, likes to push his players towards the higher levels and a relationship with a senior team makes that possible. Atlanta would most likely become Nashville’s ECHL  affiliate if Boston were to move on.

The Gladiators have certainly lived up to their side of the bargain, what Boston decides to do remains to be seen. For now we can only speculate on the future of their ECHL affiliation.

Bruins ECHL Affiliate: Atlanta Gladiators Season Ending Week 26 Recap

( Photo Credit: Dale Zanine / gwinnettdailypost.com )

By: Chris Greene  |  Follow me on Twitter @cgreenesports

The Atlanta Gladiators season came to an end on Sunday as they came up short against the South Carolina Stingrays. The Glads fought hard all week but an overtime loss to Orlando followed by two defeats against South Carolina left them three points short of the playoffs after 72 games.

The week began in Orlando where the Glads faced off against the Solar Bears for the last time this season. Determined to get ahead of South Carolina in the playoff race, Atlanta took the lead midway through the first period with a power play goal from Nolan LaPorte, assisted by Justin MacDonald and Joel Messner. The Glads doubled their lead four minutes later when Brett McKenzie found the net with help from Jake Flegal and Hugo Roy. The home team fought back in the second, forcing save after save from Sean Bonar who was doing an incredible job in the Atlanta goal. Orlando finally beat Bonar with less than two minutes remaining in the second, Chris LeBlanc the scorer. The third frame began with another Orlando goal, Alexander Kuqali leveled for the hosts. Neither team could add to the score before the end of regulation so the game went into overtime. Colby McAuley sealed the comeback for Orlando after four minutes, 3-2 the final score.

After the Orlando game, the Glads traveled to South Carolina for the first of two matches against the Stingrays to decide the final playoff place. As expected it was an exciting start, with both teams desperate to establish a lead. Tad Kozun put the hosts ahead after nine minutes. Cameron Askew doubled the ‘Rays lead in the final minute of the first, putting the Glads two down at the break. Atlanta came out swinging in the second but could not find the back of the net before Askew put South Carolina three goals ahead. Atlanta refused to give in and Derek Nesbitt finally got them a goal to kick-start the comeback, assisted by Nick Bligh and Hugo Roy, ending the second period 3-1.

The Glads were awarded a power play early in the third period, they took full advantage of the opportunity and Bligh scored with help from Brett McKenzie and Matt Lane. Coach Pyle’s men kept going and Joel Messner scored a stunning one-handed goal to tie the game, LaPorte and McKenzie were credited with the assists. The Glads had the momentum but were stunned in the final minute of regulation when Jordan Samuels-Thomas put the ‘Rays back into the lead. Seconds later Kozun scored an empty-netter to complete a 5-3 win for South Carolina, a bitter result for Atlanta who fought hard to get back into contention.

The Stingrays were in Atlanta for the final game of the regular season. For the Gladiators, the objective was simple; a win in regulation would see them into the playoffs, any other result and it would be South Carolina heading into the postseason. The ‘Rays were the first to score, a power-play goal from Kozun on 15 minutes gave them the lead heading into the first intermission. LaPorte scored the only goal of the second period with help from Messner and MacDonald, giving the Glads 20 minutes to beat the Stingrays to the playoffs. Andrew Cherniwchan scored for SC with about 10 minutes left in the game. Atlanta needed two goals to keep their season alive, with time running out McKenzie scored to tie the game with less than a minute to play, Lane and LaPorte with the assists. With the crowd on the edge their seats, willing their team on, Mason Mitchell scored off the faceoff, sending South Carolina to the playoffs. It was a cruel way to end the season, and the Gladiators bowed out with a 3-2 loss.

The Glads deserve credit for turning their season around. Last Christmas they were dead and buried, lurking at the bottom of the ECHL standings. Coach Pyle rallied the team and they started 2019 with a franchise record point streak. They began to climb the South Division standings and came very close to fighting their way into the playoffs. Although they did not make the postseason, the Glads have built a solid platform to build on for next season.

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Bruins ECHL Affiliate: Atlanta Gladiators Week 26 Preview

( Photo Credit: Amanda Bingham / gwinnettdailypost.com )

By: Chris Greene  |  Follow me on Twitter @cgreenesports

With 69 games played, the Atlanta Gladiators are finally on the home stretch. After looking down and out before Christmas, Jeff Pyle’s team has fought back to within touching distance of the playoffs. With three regular-season games remaining, the Glads are tied with South Carolina for the final postseason spot, the entire season comes down to the next three games.

There are four playoff spots available in the South Division, the first three have been secured by Florida, Orlando, and Jacksonville. The Glads are battling with the South Carolina Stingrays for the fourth and final spot. Both teams have 72 points each, but Atlanta has the advantage of having three games remaining compared to South Carolina’s two. If that is not compelling enough, the last two games of the season are head-to-head matchups between the Glads and the ‘Rays.

After the wave of AHL reinforcements last week, there has been very little activity on the Glads roster in the last few days. On Sunday forward Alex Overhardt was activated from reserve, while defenseman Jake Flegal was placed on reserve.

Atlanta starts the final week of the regular season on the road against the Orlando Solar Bears. The Glads thrashed them 5-1 last week, and another win would give them a huge advantage before they face the Stingrays. The Solar Bears have nothing left to play for with their spot in the playoffs secured, but they would love to upset Atlanta. The rivalry between the teams this season has produced some very physical games, this matchup will be the same. With the season on the line, Coach Pyle will ensure his players are highly motivated and will want two points to put them ahead in the playoff race. You do not want to miss this one.

After the Glads finish with Orlando, they have two back to back games against the South Carolina Stingrays. Game one is in South Carolina, and game two is in Atlanta. It truly is a winner takes all scenario and there will be no margin for errors. The previous 70 games can be forgotten for both teams, it all comes down to this, two games Glads fans simply cannot miss.

This Week’s Gladiators To Watch:

Nick Bligh: The third-year forward was in stunning form last week, notching six points (2g, 4a) in four games. The Glads offense is firing on all cylinders last week and his natural hunger for goals makes him one to watch this week.

Joel Messner: After a stint in the AHL with the Providence Bruins, the rookie defenseman returned to Atlanta in explosive form, tallying five points (2g, 3a) last week. He probably won’t maintain that level of offensive output, but he is one to watch for his defensive contributions. He is a very consistent presence on the blue line and the Glads will be pleased to have him back for the playoff push.

Derek Nesbitt: With three assists last week, Nezzy became the Gladiators all-time leading point scorer. His record-breaking season has been a joy to watch. He leads the team in points this season with 49 (17g, 32a) and his experience will be vital this week.

Interested in going to an Atlanta Gladiators or Boston Bruins game? Take a look at the upcoming schedule and ticket availability from SeatGiant. Click the links below and use discount code BNGP to save a little cash!

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Bruins ECHL Affiliate: Atlanta Gladiators Week 25 Recap

( Photo Credit: Amanda Bingham / gwinnettdailypost.com )

By: Chris Greene  |  Follow me on Twitter @cgreenesports

After winning two out of four last week, the Atlanta Gladiators find themselves level on points with South Carolina with three games left in the regular season. Victories over Orlando and Jacksonville put the Glads in touching distance of the playoffs. As it stands, every game is crucial.

After a disappointing loss against Orlando the last time they met, Atlanta was in search of revenge against the Solar Bears. The Glads got off to a great start with Nick Bligh scoring the only goal of the first period, less than two minutes into the game, he was assisted by Matt Lane & Filip Pyrochta. The Solar Bears leveled midway through the second period with a goal from Zach Frye. Atlanta responded quickly, Zach Malatesta restored the lead with helpers from Zach Magwood and Jack Stander. 2-1 the score heading into the final intermission.

The Gladiators showed no mercy after the break, Brady Fleurent extended the lead with a power-play goal, assisted by Derek Nesbitt and Joel Messner. The Solar Bears had no answers for the Glads offense, and Matt Lane bagged Atlanta’s fourth of the night with help from Olivier Galipeau and Bligh. Justin MacDonald wrapped up the demolition of Orlando with an empty netter, assisted by Pyrochta and Sean Bonar. 5-1 the final score, a great start to the week for the home team.

With bags of confidence after their big win, the Glads traveled to Jacksonville for the first of two games against the Icemen. Messner found the net to put the visitors ahead, assisted by Pyrochta and Hugo Roy. Jacksonville tied the game with a goal from Kyle Shapiro, ending the first period 1-1. Atlanta’s offense exploded in the second, as Bligh put the Glads ahead with help from Nesbitt. Moments later, Messner scored his second of the night on the power play, assisted by Nesbitt and Bligh. Dajon Mingo pulled a goal back for Jacksonville, but it was quickly canceled out by Roy who notched the Glads fourth of the night, assisted by Magwood and Messner. The Icemen were crushed in the final period by an empty-netter from MacDonald and an equal strength goal from Tyson Fawcett, assisted by Fleurent and MacDonald. 6-2 the final score. Nesbitt’s assists made him the all-time leader in points for the Gladiators, congratulations Nezzy.

The rematch against the Icemen was not as fun for Atlanta fans. The Glads got off to a poor start, giving up an early short-handed goal, scored by Cameron Critchlow. Jacksonville doubled the lead in the second with a score from Garrett Ladd. Brett McKenzie grabbed one back for Atlanta, assisted by Bligh. For a while, the Glads looked threatening, and Stander managed to tie the game with help from Lane and Bligh. Seconds after catching the Icemen, the Glads let them pull away with a goal from Christophe Lalancette, 3-2 the score after two. Atlanta gave up a second short-handed goal early in the third when Wacey Rabbit scored what ended up being the game-winner. The Glads fought back with a goal from Stander, assisted by Fawcett, but it was in vain as Jacksonville held on for a 4-3 win.

Atlanta’s final game of the week was against the South Carolina Stingrays, with the final playoff spot at stake, both teams had everything to play for. Patrick Gaul put the hosts ahead in the seventh minute, with the only goal of the first period. Lane scored early in the second to tie the game, assisted by Pyrochta and McKenzie. South Carolina restored the lead with a goal from Grant Besse before the end of the second. The Glads refused to give up and leveled again, Magwood, the scorer with help from Roy and Messner. Unfortunately for Atlanta, it was the last time they would celebrate, a power play goal from Cameron Askew and an empty-netter from Andrew Cherniwchan sealed a 4-2 win for South Carolina.

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Bruins ECHL Affiliate: Atlanta Gladiators Week 25 Preview

( Photo Credit: Taylor Trebotte / gwinnettdailypost.com )

By: Chris Greene  |  Follow me on Twitter @cgreenesports

The race to the ECHL playoffs is almost over. With the finish line in sight, the Atlanta Gladiators face a tricky path to secure their place in the postseason. The Glads are two points behind South Carolina, who is currently in the final South Division playoff position. This week, they face Orlando at home, before three back to back road games, two against Jacksonville and one against South Carolina. Nobody said it would be easy.

The Gladiators roster was boosted by the return of defenseman Joel Messner. He was reassigned from Providence after a stint in the AHL, where he featured in 29 games. Messner was also joined in Atlanta by defenseman Filip Pyrochta and forward Zach Magwood, who return from the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals. Forward Hugo Roy has also been assigned to Atlanta by Milwaukee. To make room for the new arrivals, the Gladiators announced that forwards Jared Ross, Luke Stork, Joe Widmar, and defenseman Sean Campbell have been released from their contracts. In other news, forward Nolan LaPorte has been placed on reserve.

The Glads take on the Orlando Solar Bears in their only home game of the week. They will be desperate to avenge last weeks 5-1 defeat at the Amway Center. The Solar Bears play a physical game, and with so much on the line for Atlanta, you can expect the gloves to be dropped at some point. With this game followed by three tough road games, it will be important for the Gladiators to start this week on a positive note. Atlanta has the advantage of AHL reinforcements and will be targeting a win at home.

After the Orlando game, the Glads travel to Jacksonville for two games against the Icemen. Atlanta won 4-1 the last time they faced off at the Veterans Memorial Arena and will be looking for similar results this week. The Icemen are two points ahead of the Stingrays, but their playoff place is not secure yet. They will be fighting for their place just like the Glads so these two games will be intense, you do not want to miss out.

Atlanta will finish the week in South Carolina to take on the Stingrays, this will be a huge game for both teams. The Glads have actually won the last five matchups against the ‘Rays, but four of those games have gone into overtime. With added pressure on both teams, it will be a test of nerves as much as a test of skill. These are the types of games you have to win to be a playoff contender, it will be a must-see.

This Week’s Gladiators To Watch:

Derek Nesbitt: He was the hero last week after scoring five points (2g, 3a) in three games, with the pressure mounting as the team approaches the ‘Business’ end of the season, his experience and leadership will be vital. The ever-reliable forward is so important to this team, keep an eye on him this week.

Joel Messner: His return will improve the Atlanta defense. The numbers speak for themselves, the Glads are much better with Messner in the team. He has a great reading of the game and that allowed him to play in 29 AHL games this season. Shortly before his call up to Providence, the rookie blueliner was named as an alternate captain for the Gladiators, highlighting his importance to this team.

Sean Bonar: It is no coincidence that the Glads started winning games when Bonar got healthy. He has been one of the most important players on the team since he returned from an injury that kept him sidelined earlier in the season. A reliable goaltender is important at any level, the Gladiators are fortunate to have one of the leagues best. He has made some incredible saves this season and was featured on ESPN’s Sports Center for his heroics last week.

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Bruins ECHL Affiliate: Atlanta Gladiators Week 24 Recap

( Photo Credit: Taylor Trebotte / gwinnettdailypost.com )

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.

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