ESTERO, FL. - The Gladiators fell to the Florida Everblades Wednesday night at Hertz Arena in the first game of the new year. It was goaltender Sean Bonar and the defense that went toe-to-toe with the division leaders for the first half of the contest, but the high-powered Everblades were too much and took the contest by the score of 4-1.
Atlanta's defense laid the foundation for a solid start with the Delta, BC native, Sean Bonar leading the way. He kept the potent Florida attack scoreless on the back of 9 saves. His biggest save came during the Gladiators’ first power play opportunity. A takeaway in the neutral zone led to Michael Neville breaking towards Bonar all-alone with 5:30 to play in the opening period. His short-handed chance was negated by a sprawling save from the Atlanta goaltender which kept the scoreboard clean.
Bonar and the stingy Atlanta defense nearly kept the Everblades off of the scoreboard for the first 30 minutes of the contest. That was when Mitch Vandergunst found Neville in the offensive zone, who saucered it to Patrick McCarron in the slot. His wrist shot bested Bonar and lifted Florida to a 1-0 lead with 10:40 to play in the middle period.
With 7:10 remaining in the same period, Patrick Bajkov won a puck battle behind the net for Florida and found Blake Winiecki splitting wide into the near-side corner. He delivered the puck to Justin Auger at the edge of the near face-off circle. His one-timer skittered by Bonar to double the Everblades’ lead.
The visitors pressed Florida to open the third period, leading the Everblades in third period shots 9 to 1. A power play gave Atlanta a chance to cut the lead in half. Brett McKenzie found Olivier Galipeau at the blue line before the Montreal, PQ native took aim at Helvig. His blast was redirected by Nolan LaPorte, finding the back of the net with 16:11 remaining in the third period.
Atlanta continued their offensive pressure, but Florida was efficient with their chances. On just their second shot of the period, the division leaders reclaimed their two-goal advantage. Shane Walsh and Joe Cox fed Kyle Platzer, who scrambled in front of the net to beat Bonar for the third time on the night. The Gladiators would not be able to overcome that deficit.
Nathan Perkovich wrestled the puck away in the neutral zone in the waning seconds of the game and guided it on for an empty-net goal with just 0:10 left on the clock to wrap up the victory for the home team. The loss keeps Atlanta at 20 points on the season.
The Gladiators continue this three-game visit to Estero Friday night against the Everblades at 7:30 PM. Atlanta’s next home game comes on Saturday, January 12th against the Jacksonville Icemen. Puck drop is 7:35 PM, and it is the annual Teddy Bear Toss Night!