ESTERO, FL - The Gladiators were ready to build a win streak of their own against the Florida Everblades Saturday night at Hertz Arena. On the heels on an exciting 2-1 win Friday, Atlanta outshot Florida 37-24 but could not contain the ECHL’s top team and dropped the contest 7-2 to the opportunistic Everblades.
Atlanta continued the trend of early defense at Hertz Arena, even without Sean Bonar in net. It did not last as long as they would have hoped, as the Everblades found the back of the net earlier than the previous two meetings this week. Blake Winiecki, the lone goal scorer for Florida on Friday night, gathered the puck behind the net and delivered the disc to the blue line where Ben Masella’s quick move presented him with a prime scoring chance. His wrist shot from the high shot beat goaltender Michael Bitzer and gave the home team the 1-0 lead just 4:01 into the contest.
The Gladiators did not wait for the second period to develop before tying up the game. On a power play carrying over from the first period, Justin MacDonald got things going in the offensive zone. He found Olivier Galipeau at the blue line and the Montreal, PQ native saucered a pass into the corner for Brett McKenzie. The Ottawa, ON resident skated from the half boards to the top of the slot where his wrist shot skittered beyond Florida goaltender Jeremy Helvig to level the game just :36 seconds into the second period.
Unfortunately for the Glads, the tie game did not last long. Just :23 seconds after Atlanta’s first tally, the hosting Everblades regained their one-goal advantage. Kyle Platzer won an offensive zone face-off to Michael Neville. He chipped the puck to Joe Cox in the high slot, and his quick chance on Bitzer found the back of the net to give Florida a 2-1 lead.
After Atlanta’s penalty kill earned a 100% success rate on the first two nights in Estero, the division-leading Everblades finally made the Gladiators pay on the man-advantage. Patrick Bajkov found Logan Roe in the near-side face-off circle. His blast bested Bitzer to double the Florida lead with 8:38 to play in the middle frame.
Things went from bad to worse, as the Everblades began to pour on the offense. Bakjov gathered the puck at the blue line before finding Winiecki slicing straight into the offensive zone. His shot from the slot beat Bitzer and extended the Florida lead with 3:22 to play in the second. Only 1:03 after Winiecki’s score, defenseman Josh Wesley joined the party by beating Bitzer after a Glads’ turnover in front and ballooning the lead to 5-1 by the second intermission.
Atlanta refused to quit, kicking off the final frame with a 5-on-3 power play. Zach Malatesta found Galipeau inside the blue line. His powerful shot rifled past Helvig to cut the lead down to three just :15 seconds into the third period. Unfortunately for Atlanta, the Everblades found their sixth goal less than three minutes later. Neville joined the scoring brigade for Florida to regain Florida’s four-goal advantage.
Auger became the seventh goal scorer on the night for Florida with 12:29 to play in the game and the Everblades took the even more convincing lead at Hertz Arena. Atlanta had a number of chances late but could not add another on the night and the final horn sounded with the home side the 7-2 victors. The loss keeps Atlanta at 22 points on the season.
The Gladiators have a five-day break before their next contest, Friday on the road against the South Carolina Stingrays at 7:05 PM. The Gladiators return to Infinite Energy Arena on Saturday, January 12th for the annual Teddy Bear Toss Night!