Gladiators Take Stingrays To School

Atlanta Ties the Franchise Record with Points in 11 Straight Games in Exhilarating 6-5 OT Win

The Gladiators returned to home ice looking to continue their point streak and climb up the standings as they hosted South Carolina for a morning Education Day game. Atlanta came out firing and took a 4-0 lead before it was erased by the Stingrays. The hectic contest would go to overtime where Brett McKenzie potted his second goal of the game, giving the Glads their ninth victory in their last 11 games and tying a 13-year-old franchise record for points in consecutive contests.

Neither team seemed too groggy to start the morning affair, but the Gladiators had a particular pep in their step. The home team built offensive zone momentum during an early power play and capitalized shortly after when, once again, Joe Widmar won a face-off to spark a scoring play. He won the puck back to a waiting Avery Peterson at the top of the face-off circle. The Grand Rapids, MN product delivered a wrist shot out of the reach of Stingrays’ goaltender Parker Milner to give Atlanta the early goal with 9:18 to play in the first period.

Less than three minutes later, the Gladiators doubled their advantage. On the third power play of the morning, Alex Overhardt gathered the puck behind Milner’s net. He found Dan Leavens sneaking into the nearside face-off circle. The Thornhill, ON native twirled a pass to the empty backside of Milner’s cage. McKenzie was there to receive the pass and convert the tip-in goal with 6:31 remaining in the opening session.

Atlanta found themselves with another 2-0 lead after one period, a trend at home in recent battles. The surging Gladiators ended Milner’s day before noon with a third tally. Matt Lane lifted a puck into the offensive zone where Overhardt gathered it in the nearside corner before dishing it into the crease. Justin MacDonald crashed towards the net, deked the netminder, and buried the chance to give Atlanta a 3-0 lead just over five minutes into the second period.

The home team kept the mid-day party going with another middle frame tally with 7:24 to play. Olivier Galipeau fed the puck forward to Luke Stork breaking into the offensive zone. Stork drew the attention of defenders while the French-Canadian defenseman, Galipeau, sliced towards the crease. The Pittsburgh, PA native fed Galipeau in front of the net, and he finished it off to extend Atlanta’s lead to 4-0.

The Stingrays gathered themselves and began to pressure Sean Bonar toward the end of the second period. Grant Besse was left open in the slot and buried a chance to get South Carolina on the board with 0:33 to play in the period. The visitors built on that momentum just :12 seconds into the final period. Patrick Gaul took a puck from Tim Harrison in the nearside face-off circle. His wrister beat Bonar into the top of the net to cut Atlanta’s lead to two.

The ‘Rays were not done. Besse struck again with 10:06 to play in regulation. Jordan Samuels-Thomas gathered the puck from a scrum on the nearside wall then dished to the crease. Besse navigated around Bonar and his shot bounced into the back of the net to cut the deficit to just one goal. Matters went from bad to worse less than two minutes later. Gaul fed Harrison in the low slot and the Duxbury, MA product found the equalizer with 8:13 to play.

Just when it looked like South Carolina had taken all the wind out of Atlanta’s sails, Derek Nesbitt came to the rescue. A beautiful give-and-go with Nick Bligh in the far side corner gave the Seaforth, ON product a clean look at Angus Redmond’s goal. His blast found the back of the net with 7:36 to play to regain the lead.

South Carolina would not go down lightly, once again, as they tied the game with just .26 seconds left to play in regulation with their goalie pulled. Tim Davidson saw the puck come to his area at the left point. His snap shot slipped between the legs of Bonar sending the game to overtime.

After two brilliant stops by Bonar in the Gladiators zone, McKenzie went coast-to-coast and fired a shot between the legs of Redmond, sealing the win for Atlanta. With the two points earned in the contest, the Glads have tied the Norfolk Admirals for fifth place in the South Division with 42 points and are just seven points back of the fourth seed once again. The Gladiators’ points in eleven game point-streak ties the franchise record dating back to the 2005-06 season when the Glads collected at least a point in 11 straight from February, 18th to March 17th.

ROAD AHEAD

 

Up next, the Gladiators host the same South Carolina Stingrays at the Infinite Energy Arena on Friday, February 8th, for the second of back-to-back games vs. their South Division rivals.  Puck drop is set for 7:35 pm.

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