The Atlanta Gladiators took the ice for the second time in three days against the Jacksonville Icemen on Sunday afternoon as they welcomed their division foe into the Infinite Energy Arena for the first time. Despite a push from the Icemen late in the third, the Gladiators were able to hold on to their early lead and skate away with the 4-2 victory.
Atlanta would open the scoring for the first time in three matchups with Jacksonville with a power play tally 14:15 into the opening frame. Ben Marshall controlled the puck for the home team in the high slot and found Josh Atkinson across the blue line. Atkinson then blasted a shot from the left boards that hit off Brady Vail and crossed over the goal-line. The goal was Vail’s fifth of the season, but his first as a member of the Gladiators.
With only 1:42 left in the first period, the Gladiators struck once again to increase their lead to 2-0. Lindsay Sparks carried the puck into the offensive zone and sent a drop pass to Tanner Pond at the point. The product of Northeastern University then knocked the puck over to Ben Danford, who circled towards the slot and wristed a shot over the left pad of Jacksonville goalie Jamie Phillips for his fourth goal of the season.
The Gladiators would add to their lead and make the score 3-0 with only 3:57 remaining in the second period. Luke Sandler intercepted the puck at the near boards in his offensive zone and whipped a pass into the low corner. There, Alex Gacek gathered the puck and skated out of the corner before he did a quick toe-drag around the defender and slid a shot into the back of the net through traffic for his seventh goal of the year.
Jacksonville would get on the board 2:46 into the third period to bring the score to 3-1. Ryan Graham netted his second goal of the season on the play after he received a pass in front of the net and lifted a shot over the glove of Atlanta netminder Sean Bonar. Both Jimmy Lodge and Scott Savage were awarded an assist on the play.
Just over two minutes of game-time later, the Icemen struck once again to cut their deficit to 3-2. Lodge corralled a loose puck in the center of the ice and skated it into his offensive zone with two defenders on him. The former Winnipeg Jets draft pick then spun around a defender to lift a pass across to Graham, who one-timed a shot into the back of the net for his second goal of the game.
Atlanta would regain their two-goal lead and increase the score to 4-2 with 5:32 left in the third period. Taylor Stefishen carried the puck out of the defensive zone for the Gladiators and head-maned the puck up to Darby Llewellyn. The rookie then skated into the zone on a two-on-one and sent a saucer pass over to Derek Nesbitt, who wired a wrist shot off the post and in for his fifth goal of the season sealing the victory for the Gladiators.
With the win on home ice, Atlanta improved to 10-6-1-1 on the season and are now tied with Greenville for third in the South Division with 22 points. Meanwhile, Jacksonville dropped to 3-11-1-1 following the loss and remain in seventh in the division with only seven points.
Up next, Atlanta will look to avenge their early season losses as they host Florida for two games next weekend. The Gladiators and Everblades will face off at 7:35PM on Friday night at the Infinite Energy Arena.