JACKSONVILLE, FL - The Atlanta Gladiators embarked on their final road trip of the regular season with the first of two straight nights against the Jacksonville Icemen. On the night the hosting Icemen were donning the colors of their crosstown brethren, the AA baseball squad Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, it was the visitors frying the competition and serving a hot plate of offense.
The visiting Gladiators did not have a plethora of early opportunities, but they struck when given the chance to take control of the contest. Atlanta's recent infusion of AHL talent combined for the first scoring sequence of the night when Hugo Roy and Filip Pyrochta twirled a pass to defenseman Joel Messner at the blue line. His long blast flew past Jacksonville netminder, Angus Redmond, to give the Gladiators the 1-0 advantage with 11:36 to play in the opening period.
Atlanta had a chance to double that lead when Cameron Critchlow earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after an interference penalty on the Icemen was already sending the Gladiators to the power play. Jacksonville boasts the league's top penalty killing unit and they showed it when Atlanta failed to capitalize on two full minutes of a 5-on-3 power play time. Shortly after, the home team fashioned that defensive momentum into their offensive zone. David Broll found Kyle Shapiro for the game-tying goal with 6:47 to play in the first period.
After a back-and-forth opening to the second period, it was the Icemen killer, Nick Bligh, that struck again against Jacksonville. Derek Nesbitt fed the Boston, MA product as they crossed over the blue line, and that was where Bligh let a wrist shot rip and regained the lead for Atlanta with 11:58 to play in the second period. The tally marked the ninth goal against Jacksonville this season in eight games played.
The Gladiators' offense was just getting warmed up in this middle frame, and it was Messner, striking again, to extend the Atlanta lead. Bligh, tormenting the Icemen once again, assisted the goal along with Nesbitt as another long-range shot from Messner found the back of the net with 6:20 to play in the period. The first multi-goal game of the Manitoba native’s pro career gave the Glads some breathing room.
Just over a minute later, the home team got that goal right back. Critchlow and Kris Newburry fed Dajon Mingo for the tally to bring Jacksonville back within a goal at 3-2. Mingo’s wrist shot off the rush from the right circle was the defender’s 11th goal on the campaign.
The momentum seemed to be shifting in the arena, but it was a new face to the Gladiator roster that quickly took the wind out of the Veterans Memorial Arena. Messner and Zach Magwood found the rookie, Roy, slicing through the slot before he left two Jacksonville defenders dumbfounded and had a prime chance in front of Redmond's net. He buried the opportunity to regain Atlanta's two-goal lead at 4-2 with 4:02 remaining in the second on his first pro goal.
The home team had a chance to rally the raucous crowd once again early in the final frame. Atlanta's first penalty minutes of the night came after a tripping minor less than two minutes into the third period. Despite an onslaught of chances, Bonar and the penalty kill stood tall to hold the two-goal advantage. The Gladiators' defense was under siege most of the final period as the Icemen desperately searched for their third goal to pull within one tally. Atlanta's composed defending pushed Jacksonville to pull Redmond with roughly three minutes to play. That is when Justin MacDonald struck with his second straight empty net goal to ice the game for the visitors.
As if that was not enough, Tyson Fawcett added a sixth tally of the season from MacDonald and Brady Fleurent in the final minute. Fawcett chipping a backhand into the goal to bite his former team and secure the 6-2 victory for the Gladiators.
The win was a big one for Atlanta, as they moved into sole possession of a playoff position for the first time since October 24th, 2018. The Gladiators now lead South Carolina by two points for the fourth and final South Division playoff spot with one game in hand on the Stingrays. The Glads also trail Jacksonville by only two points for the third spot in the South Division, also with a game in hand on the Icemen.
Atlanta continues this road trip with the second of three straight contests Saturday night in Jacksonville. Puck drop is set for 7:00 PM. Secure your tickets for the Gladiators home finale on Sunday, April 7th at 3:05 PM by visiting atlantagladiators.com today!