Jeff Pyle Wins 500th ECHL Game
The Rapid City Rush tried their best to cool off the Atlanta Gladiators, even catapulting water bottles to the ice. The white-hot Gladiators were not deterred, however, and cruised to a 4-0 win on Friday evening in western South Dakota. Head coach Jeff Pyle became only the second coach ever to earn 500 victories in the ECHL with the dominant result, and Sean Bonar earned his franchise-record seventh career shutout.
Both teams were up to the task early in their defensive zones. Bonar and Tyler Parks, the same netminders from Wednesday’s contest, anchored their respective defensive efforts. After faltering on their first power play, the Gladiators took advantage of their second. Defenseman Olivier Galipeau found Dan Leavens in the nearside corner before the Thornhill, ON native found Nolan LaPorte in near the face-off dot. His wrister found the glove of Parks, but the velocity carried it out of the webbing before it trickled into the side of the net. Atlanta’s power play tally gave the visitors the 1-0 advantage with 2:40 to play in the opening frame.
The second frame brought out the intensity many expected to see from two of the grittiest teams in the ECHL. Defenseman Filip Pyrochta strategically back-checked a Rush forward streaking towards the net, enraging the Rapid City fans and bench alike. The defensive play allowed Pyrochta to find Nick Bligh in the offensive zone in a two-on-one with Justin MacDonald. Bligh fed the Newmarket, ON product in the crease as he buried the chance, doubling the Atlanta lead with 10:33 to play in the second period.
In the aftermath of the second goal, tempers poured over on the Rush bench. Still yelling at the referee about Pyrochta’s back-check, a Rapid City coaching staff member hurled multiple water bottles onto the ice and earned a quick ejection. The scuffle led to another power play. Just 1:18 after MacDonald’s goal, Atlanta added another. LaPorte twirled a pass to Galipeau before he rifled a shot beyond Parks and into the back of the cage. The Gladiators had ballooned their lead to 3-0 with 9:15 to play in the second and carried that advantage into the locker room.
The Rush continued to bring the pressure in the final frame, leading to plenty of scuffles between these testy competitors. MacDonald added a late empty-net goal to advance the advantage to 4-0 and moved him into a tie for the overall team lead with 17 goals on his second of the evening. Bonar was able to see out the shutout bid and earned his 15th win of the season and fourth shutout on the campaign.
The victory lifts Atlanta to 54 points on the season, just one point behind South Carolina for the final South Division playoff spot with two games in hand.
The streaking Gladiators conclude their trip in Rapid City with a third, and final, contest with the Rush Saturday night. Puck drop is set for 9:05 PM ET at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.