Saturday Night ECHL Hockey
The Atlanta Gladiators answered the stingy Swamp Rabbits in the first period to keep pace with a home team that came to play. After entering the first intermission tied 2-2, Greenville outscored Atlanta 3-1 in the final forty minutes to split a back-to-back series between the I-85 rivals with a 5-3 win Saturday night.
The home team wasted no time establishing a lead in their own arena. Will Merchant and Thomas Ebbing created a chance for Tyler Bird and the Rabbits snagged an early lead just over nine minutes into the contest. Atlanta rebounded just under four minutes later on a play sparked by defenseman Olivier Galipeau. The French Canadian found the new father, Branden Troock, streaking towards the Greenville net. His deke and shot tied the game with 7:23 to play in the first.
Greenville answered yet again when Adam Larkin capitalized on a chance created by Brendan Harms and Ebbing on a power play opportunity. The tally gave the Rabbits the lead with 4:27 to play in the frame. Not to be outdone, the visiting Gladiators answered back. The Glads’ first goal scorer, Troock, broke into the offensive zone and drew defensive attention before twirling a pass to Alex Overhardt uncovered from the backside. His one-timer bested Greenville’s netminder Garrett Bartus to tie the game at two with 2:08 to play in the opening frame.
The back-and-forth battle continued after a slow start to the second period. An Atlanta turnover at their defensive blue line led to a breakaway chance for Greenville’s Dylan Vander Esch. He buried the chance to regain the lead for the host Swamp Rabbits with 8:47 to play in the middle frame.
When it seemed Atlanta needed to regroup, Greenville struck again on a controversial no-call. A Greenville forward appeared to interfere with Gladiators goaltender, Sean Bonar, before Harm’s second-period tally found the back of the net with Bonar laying on his back. No interference call was made, and the goal gave the Rabbits a two-goal lead with 5:16 to play in the second period.
The visiting Glads began mounting their rally early in the third frame. Nick Bligh and Derek Nesbitt fed forward Joe Widmar behind the Greenville net. With multiple options to pass to, the Northbrook, IL product took the scoring chance upon himself and bested Bartus to bring the Gladiators within one less than three minutes into the third period.
Greenville and their fans thought they regained their two-goal advantage on a power play scoring chance that was stopped by Bonar. The play was ruled no-goal on the ice and stood that way after a review concluded goalie interference caused the puck to trickle into the goal after a whistle.
A tight whistle gave Greenville another power play chance late in the third period, and it was Stephen Pierog with the insurance goal for the home team with assists from Larkin and Bird with just 2:11 to play. The loss keeps the Gladiators just one point out of the final playoff position in the South Division.
The Gladiators continue their road trip Wednesday night at 7:30 PM in Estero, FL where they begin a three-game series with the division-leading Florida Everblades.