DULUTH, GA - Jacksonville invaded the Infinite Energy Arena for the first time on the season as Atlanta looked to break their winless drought. Sean Bonar stopped all 28 shots he faced to earn the shutout and Derek Nesbitt’s multi-point night earned the Gladiators the 4-0 victory on Thursday night.
The feisty festivities began before the initial puck was dropped when multiple Icemen seemed to have a bone to pick with Glads winger Jesse Gabrielle. Despite the antics, no gloves dropped at the outset and the contest began.
Both squads entered the first intermission scoreless, but it was not for a lack of effort. Atlanta allowed seven shots, but goaltender Sean Bonar stood tall on multiple occasions with some acrobatic saves. On the other end, Mikhail Berdin was equal to the task for Jacksonville. His aggressive puck-playing behind the net nearly broke the tie, when Justin MacDonald robbed the goaltender and nearly wrapped it around for an easy goal. Bonar capped off a superb period with a remarkable glove save at the final horn.
In the second period, Atlanta experienced an offensive outburst unlike one they have experienced in a few games. It began with Nick Bligh, coming off of his first Atlanta goal Wednesday night, taking a big hit to move the puck to Jared Ross. The Huntsville, AL native, making his home debut 13 years after his initial stint with the team, dished the puck to Derek Nesbitt for a one-timer that beat Berdin between the legs at the 12:55 mark.
Next up for the Gladiators was defenseman Jack Stander. After winning the puck in the crease in front of the Jacksonville net, he navigated the full length of the ice to lace a wrister past Berdin to double the lead at the 9:09 mark of the second period. The tally gave the Grosse Pointe Woods, MI native his first professional goal.
Zach Malatesta continued the trend of defenders finding the back of the net. Bligh fed Nesbitt on the near-side half-boards before the Seaforth, ON native found Malatesta cutting to the net. He found the back of the cage for the first time since November 21st and gave Atlanta a 3-0 advantage with 6:12 to play in the middle frame.
Atlanta maintained their impressive play, led by Bonar and his 28-save shutout performance. The Gladiators got a late, empty net goal to seal the 4-0 win for the home side. The result gives Atlanta a long-awaited victory that had been coming after multiple well-played games in recent days. The victory lifts Atlanta to 18 points on the season.
The Gladiators continue their homestand tomorrow, December 21st against the Jacksonville Icemen once again, with puck drop at 7:35 PM. Be sure to bring any new or gently-used coats for the final night of the Gladiators’ Coat Drive.