Gladiators Set New Franchise Record in 2-1 OT Win
On the first pajama night in the history of hockey, the Gladiators did good in their community after the first goal of the night when the ice was littered with PJs. Beyond that, the hottest team in the ECHL continued to provide a thrilling product on the ice as they set the franchise record with points in 12 straight games after Justin MacDonald scored the overtime winner giving Atlanta the weekend sweep of South Carolina and the 2-1 win.
Goaltender Michael Bitzer made his second start for the Gladiators and first at Infinite Energy Arena. Both he and South Carolina’s goalie, Parker Milner stood tall in goal early to settle into the game. A slew of penalties on both teams tested the penalty kill units for each squad, but it was Atlanta at even strength that struck first. Nick Bligh fluttered a puck into the nearside corner before defenseman Zach Malatesta gathered it. He snuck behind the net before twirling a pass to Joe Widmar in the crease. His one-timer beat the defending ECHL Goalie of the Year to give Atlanta the early advantage with 5:37 to play in the opening frame and send the PJs flying to the ice.
The visitors began the middle period as the team with more energy on the ice. Atlanta weathered the storm and even had a few quality chances to double their lead. It was eventually a juicy chance in front of Bitzer’s net that was finished by Grant Besse to level the game with 11:14 to play in the second period.
An intense third period produced plenty of chances for both sides, but ended in a stalemate and forced a second overtime period in as many days. After Bitzer and Milner produced a tight contest through 60 minutes, it took just :31 seconds for the game to end in overtime. Filip Pyrochta had an open look on net before dishing to Brett McKenzie. The Ottawa, ON native put on the breaks and found the streaking Justin MacDonald trailing the play. He drifted to the side of the net before ripping the game-winner through the Stingray goaltender and earning Atlanta the thrilling victory.
With the win, the Gladiators broke a franchise record for points in consecutive games. Friday night marked the twelfth straight contest with at least a point, breaking the previous record from the 2005-06 season.
Atlanta plays their third game in a row Saturday night as they visit the Norfolk Admirals at 7:00 PM. The Gladiators return home Wednesday evening as they host their first out-of-division opponent in the Newfoundland Growlers.