NORFOLK, VA - In their third game in as many days, the Atlanta Gladiators traveled to Virginia for a division showdown with the Norfolk Admirals on Saturday night. Despite going down 1-0 in the opening frame, the Gladiators battled back to take a 4-1 victory behind a three-point night from Justin MacDonald and two goals from Nolan LaPorte, increasing their franchise-record point-streak to 13 games.
The Gladiators dominated the play early in the first and recorded the first 10 shots of the contest. However, Atlanta did not take advantage of their strong offensive play, and instead, Norfolk tallied for the first lead of the game. TJ Melancon gathered a loose puck at the near side point and sent a pass across the blue line to Darik Angeli. The Denver native then misplayed the pass before he chipped the puck down to Matt McMorrow. There, the rookie forward dragged the puck across the front of the net and slid it into the far corner to give the Admirals a 1-0 lead with 5:50 left in the opening frame.
Atlanta maintained consistent offensive pressure through the second and finally broke through with just 1:38 remaining in the period. Matt Lane stole the puck off a Norfolk defender at the blue line and knocked a pass forward to LaPorte. The product of Western Michigan University glided to the center slot and used a screen from the defenseman to fire a shot past Jeremy Brodeur for his 11thgoal of the year, knotting the score at 1-1.
The visitors continued on the strong end to the second period and came out of the gates flying in the third. After Norfolk found themselves a man short on a tripping call, the Gladiators took full advantage and struck a special teams goal to take a 2-1 lead just 2:19 into the final frame. MacDonald controlled the puck in the far side offensive circle and cycled it low to Derek Nesbitt. The assistant captain then fed a pass across to Nick Bligh, who nudged the puck into the net at the back door for his team-leading 15th of the season.
Just over six minutes of playing time later, Atlanta tallied once again to increase their lead to 3-1. MacDonald stole the puck at the near side boards in the offensive zone and skated towards the slot, where he did a toe-drag around the defender and fired a backhand shot off the crossbar and into the net. The unassisted tally was the Newmarket, ONT native’s 14th of the year.
Atlanta was not done yet, however, as LaPorte found the twine for the second time in the game with 7:35 left in the third period. Brett McKenzie gathered the puck in the defensive zone and whistled a pass to LaPorte in the neutral zone. The third-year pro then completed a give-and-go play with MacDonald as they hurried down the ice and then rifled a shot into the top corner to increase Atlanta’s lead to 4-1. Sean Bonar would not allow another goal, making 30 saves on the night, and sealed the Atlanta victory.
The road win pushed Atlanta to a record of 19-19-7-1 and leap-frogged them ahead of Norfolk in the ECHL South Division standings
The Gladiators will return to action on Wednesday, February 13th as they welcome the Newfoundland Growlers to the Infinite Energy Arena for a 7:35 PM puck drop.