DULUTH, Ga. - Despite a Nolan LaPorte hat trick, the Gladiators fell to the Stingrays after countless comeback efforts by the score of 6-5 on Sunday afternoon.
Coming on the heels of two close losses the previous two days, Atlanta took just :47 seconds to strike in the afternoon matinee. Jack Stander fed Zach Malatesta and the Boston, MA native seemed to take a long shot on goal. Instead, it was a brilliant pass in front of the net. LaPorte deflected the puck past South Carolina goaltender Gordon Defiel to give the Gladiators an early lead.
Atlanta controlled the early portion of the game, but one Stingray rush changed the early flow. Jonathan Charbonneau delivered the puck to Tad Kozun in the crease. Svoboda and Gladiator defenders scrambled to clear the threat. An unfortunate bounce off of an Atlanta defender’s skate deflected in and tied the game at one at the 15:59 mark of the first period.
The visitors rode that momentum to a second tally in the opening frame. Sam Fioretti found Charbonneau at the far-side face-off dot. His one-timer beat Svoboda on the glove side at the 8:31 mark.
Just over 2:00 into the middle frame, the visitors struck again. Tim Davison’s shot from the blue line was deflected to Fioretti on the side of the net. He found Shane Eiserman streaking to the goal crease on the back side of Svoboda to double the Stingray lead.
The tides began to shift at the 9:08 mark of the second. After some added Gladiator pressure, Brett McKenzie stole the puck from South Carolina’s Cameron Bakker. His wide-angle wrister from the half boards beat Defiel and brought Atlanta back to within a goal.
Only :36 seconds later, the home team continued their comeback. A takeaway by David Mazurek sparked a break for Atlanta. Fighting the Stingray defense, he dove to dish the puck to Jesse Gabrielle. The Bruins’ draft pick had his shot on goal saved by Defiel, but the rebound fell to Mazurek, who had just gotten to his feet. His second-chance shot on goal was an aerial tumbler that snuck past a scrambling Defiel to tie the game.
At 17:25 of the third, Atlanta’s momentum was stifled. The ‘Rays went back ahead when Mike Chen’s shot on goal bounced off of Ben Danford’s stomach and past an unsuspecting Colton Phinney.
Less than a minute later, the Gladiators continued their goal-happy weekend. Zach Malatesta entered the offensive zone and casually dumped the puck back to LaPorte, who already scored once on the day. When no defender stepped into his shooting lane, the Mokena, Ill. native wound up and blasted the puck by Defiel to tie the game once again.
After a netmouth scramble in front, the Rays took the lead again late in the third. At the 17:32 mark of the final stanza Cam Askew found the back of the goal on a play for which the Glads felt should not have been deemed a legal tally. The goal stood after a short meeting by the officials and the Stingrays earned the 6-5 win.
Atlanta embarks on a three-game road trip starting in North Charleston, SC on Wednesday night, December 12th.