DULUTH, GA – Atlanta returned to home ice for the first time in over two weeks as they entertained the Greenville Swamp Rabbits for a Friday evening showdown at the Infinite Energy Arena. Kyle Hayton’s 40 saves for Greenville kept the game close, but the Gladiators held on for the 3-2 victory.
Atlanta finally broke through in the latter stages of the opening period by way of the longest-tenured Gladiator, Derek Nesbitt. Joe Widmar won a puck battle on the nearside boards before shuttling the puck to Nesbitt behind the net. He dropped a pass to Nolan LaPorte before skating around the Greenville cage. LaPorte fed the assistant captain on the edge of Hayton’s crease. His spin move led to a quick shot that found the back of the net with 6:45 to play in the first period.
Greenville was under duress for most of the first, but pesky work in Atlanta’s defensive zone gave the visitors a chance to equalize. Chad Duschene and Tyler Bird fed Jake Bolton in the slot, where he beat Sean Bonar to tie the game with 1:13 to play in the opening frame.
A relatively calm second period unraveled after a series of hits left defenseman Zach Malatesta battered and bruised. Another check on the Boston, MA native led to a multi-player scrum that resulted in multiple fighting penalties and an Atlanta power play opportunity. Despite the chance, Greenville’s Hayton stood tall once again in net and foiled several Gladiator opportunities.
It was a few lesser known names on the Gladiators roster that provided a spark for the go-ahead goal. Justin MacDonald found newly-acquired forward Tyson Fawcett streaking through the neutral zone. The Barrie, ON native broke in on a breakaway chance that was stuffed by Hayton. Avery Peterson gathered the rebound and buried the second chance to give the home team the lead to the delight of the nearly 7,000 in attendance.
Despite the Gladiators leading in shots 31-12 after forty minutes of play, the Swamp Rabbits played competitively and gave the Gladiators a tough fight. The third goal for Atlanta would be a critical one, and it was two players back in Atlanta after stints in the AHL that connected on the next tally. Zach Magwood dug the puck out of a nearside boards battle before he twirled a pass to Matt Lane walking down the slot. The Rochester, NY product buried the prime scoring chance just :89 seconds into the final period.
The scrappy Swamp Rabbits would not go away, despite the two-goal deficit. After earning yet another power play opportunity, they finally capitalized. Travis Howe and Michael Pelech fed Austen Brassard in front of Bonar’s crease before shuttling the scoring chance home to make it a 3-2 game with 6:51 to play.
Despite a bevy of penalties on both teams in the final minutes, Atlanta held on for another home win and kept pace with the South Carolina Stingrays in the race for the final South Division playoff spot. Atlanta trails South Carolina by just one point for fourth and Jacksonville by six points with three games in hand on both teams.
The Gladiators will square off with the Swamp Rabbits again on Saturday night up I-85 in Greenville, SC. Puck drop is set for 7:00 PM at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena.