N. CHARLESTON, SC – The Gladiators concluded a four-game road trip in South Carolina looking to knock-off the Stingrays for the first time this season. Bligh completed a multi-point evening, with the overtime game-winner against his former team, to give the Gladiators the thrilling 3-2 road win Friday night.
The Gladiators held a decisive advantage on the ice after the opening 20 minutes against the Stingrays. Atlanta trailed in shots 3-2 when they earned their lone power play opportunity. The Gladiators created eight unsuccessful shots on that man advantage, and ended the period with a 12-3 shots advantage, but remained scoreless in terms of goals.
Atlanta’s shot advantage ballooned to 16-3 before the opening goal. Unfortunately, it was not the visitors finding the back of the net. On their second power play of the night, South Carolina benefited from some puck luck on their home ice. Matt Pohlkamp found Christian Horn, and his wide-angle shot found the skate of a Gladiator defender. The deflection sailed into the goal beating goaltender, Sean Bonar, with 16:41 to play in the middle frame.
Fortune seemed to take a U-turn for Atlanta in the second half of the middle period. Nick Bligh intercepted a South Carolina clearance attempt just shy of the blue line. He spun and saucered a pass to Derek Nesbitt. The most senior Gladiator capitalized on the one-time chance as he sent a rocket flying past Rays goaltender, Angus Redmond, to tie the game with 9:06 to play in the second period.
Just inside 5:00 to play in the second period, Nolan LaPorte sprung a 3-on-1 break to continue pouring on the pressure. The Chicago, IL native found Brett McKenzie slicing to the backside of Redmond’s goal. He turned the South Carolina defenders attention to himself while LaPorte and Justin MacDonald gathered at the opposite side of the net. McKenzie’s pass across the crease found MacDonald and was stifled by Redmond before a second chance slipped past the goaltender and gave Atlanta the 2-1 lead going into the second intermission.
The home team did not take the deficit lying down. They closed the shots gap significantly in the third period and knotted the score 11:38 into the third stanza. Another crazy carom off a Gladiator gave Tim Harrison the game-tying tally for the home side in the third.
After two successful penalty kills late in regulation by the Glads, the game shifted to overtime with both teams earning a point in the standings. Atlanta was all over the Rays in the extra session, nearly scoring on several chances. After a Bonar save in the Gladiator’s zone, Bligh found a loose puck and blew by the Stingrays’ defenders in the final moments of overtime. With the home side franticly chasing the Dartmouth product, Bligh protected the puck and deked around Redmond and slid the puck through the five-hole, giving the thrilling win to Atlanta.
The Gladiators return home to the Infinite Energy Arena tomorrow night, January 12th for the team’s annual Teddy Bear Toss. The biggest crowd of the season is expected, with puck drop set for 7:35 pm, with the Jacksonville Icemen invading the Colosseum.