The Atlanta Gladiators wrapped up a four game road trip with a 4-1 victory against the Jacksonville Icemen at the Veterans Memorial Arena on Sunday afternoon. Nick Bligh’s first period natural hat-trick led the way for the visitors, and the strong start proved to be too much for the home side to overcome.
The Gladiators came out of the gates strong and took the lead just 0:35 seconds into the opening frame. Bligh stole the puck in the near-side-circle of the offensive zone and carried it to the slot. There the Boston, MA native fired a shot that bested the glove of Jacksonville goaltender Ken Appleby for his 20th goal of the year.
Atlanta then continued to apply pressure and doubled their lead to 2-0 at the 6:57 mark of the first period. Brett McKenzie carried the puck into the offensive zone and dropped a pass to the trailing Jack Stander. The rookie defenseman sent a quick pass to Bligh in the far-circle, where he slid a shot across the ice, off the post, and into the net for his second of the game.
With just 0:13 seconds left to play in the first, Bligh continued his dominance and netted his third goal of the contest. Avery Peterson collected the puck in the offensive zone and then whiffed on a shot attempt. The puck instead rolled to the slot, where Bligh fired a shot past Appleby for his team-leading 22nd tally of the season giving him his second first- period hat trick this season vs. Jacksonville.
The home side was finally able to respond with a power play goal 11:40 into the second period. Dajon Mingo controlled the puck at the near-side point in the offensive zone and threw a pass across the blue-line to Garrett Ladd. The Michigan native then fired a shot that was blocked by Gladiators goalie Sean Bonar, however, Everett Clark picked up the rebound in front of the net and knocked the puck in to bring the score to 3-1.
Despite a myriad of chances from both teams late in the game, neither side broke through again. Instead, an empty net tally from Justin MacDonald was the only strike in the final period, sealing Atlanta's 4-1 win. The Glads keep pace with the also victorious South Carolina Stingrays and remain two points behind their South Division rival with two games in hand.
Up next, the Gladiators will return home for a huge divisional matchup with the South Carolina Stingrays on Wednesday evening. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:35 pm at the Infinite Energy Arena on March 13th.