DULUTH, GA - The Gladiators return to the ice after the Christmas break looking to exercise their demons from the Florida Everblades. Florida struck just :22 seconds into the game and never relinquished the lead as they earned the road win over Atlanta 5-2 on Wiener Dog Night.
The visitors established themselves in the opening shift of the contest. Florida regained the puck in the neutral zone after an initial clearance by Atlanta. Justin Auger fed Tommy Thompson at the top of the crease. His wrist shot beat Gladiators’ goaltender Colton Phinney on the glove side to give the Everblades an early lead.
Just past the halfway mark of the first, Florida took matters from bad to worse for the home team. John McCarron walked down into the crease before finding Blake Winiecki on the back-side of Phinney. The tap-in by Winiecki doubled the Everblades’ lead at the 9:52 mark of the opening frame.
After the annual wiener dog race gave the home team a chance to recover at the first intermission, Atlanta did their best to answer the division leaders. After killing off a Don Olivieri slashing minor penalty, the Gladiators could not slow the Florida momentum. Patrick McCarron, and previous goal scorer Winiecki, teamed up to feed John McCarron right in front of Sean Bonar, who came in after the first intermission. McCarron’s one-timer bested the new Atlanta goaltender at the 15:43 mark to extend Florida’s lead to 3-0.
It took a power play of their own for the Gladiators to find the back of the net in front of a raucous crowd of 6,955. Olivieri gathered the puck at the blue line before feeding Derek Nesbitt at the other point. Nesbitt, the team leaders in points, walked to the top of the face-off circle before sending a wrister on net. The scrum ended with Alex Overhardt, fresh off of his time with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL, shuffling the puck past Florida goaltender Jamie Phillips at the 13:43 mark of the middle period. That sparked an extended period of Atlanta pressure through the middle of the second period.
Atlanta looked to be going onto another power play before eventually embarking on a 4-on-4 session after Jesse Gabrielle was called for embellishment after a tripping call. The Glads looked to clear the puck when Kyle Platzer stole it away in front of an unassuming Bonar. His quick shot regained the three-goal advantage for Florida.
Atlanta continued to fight, and it was Overhardt finding the back of the net for the second time. A power play opportunity for the Gladiators saw Overhardt gain the disc at the near-side half boards, looking to feed a teammate in front of the net. When no defender flanked to stop him, the Cherry Hill, CO native took a wide-angle wrister and pinged the far post before finding the back of the net again with 10:31 to play.
Florida added a final goal for good measure. A shot on net for Florida led to a wild scrum in front of the cage. The bouncing puck went off of Michael Neville and across the goal-line past Bonar. Neither team would surrender again after that earning Florida the 5-2 triumph.
Atlanta continues the homestand Saturday night when they host the Norfolk Admirals at 7:35 PM for Wizard Night.