DULUTH, GA – The Atlanta Gladiators topped the Utah Grizzlies 3-2 on Wednesday night to stop a five-game winless streak. Team captain Derek Nesbitt netted his long-awaited 300th professional goal, along with another goal and an assist, to lead Atlanta to a big win over the Mountain Division foe.
After allowing 44 shots by the Grizzlies in Tuesday’s loss, it was apparent early the focus was on the defensive zone for the Gladiators. They countered Utah’s aggressive speed game with a physical forecheck and punishing defense. The Grizzlies seemed poise to strike first on the initial power play of the night before a blue line pass was intercepted by Nesbitt. The captain, playing in his 429th game for the Gladiators, leapt ahead on the breakaway before finishing the chance on Barone with a high shot on the stick side. Players mauled their leader on the ice and even more on the bench, as both fans and even Grizzlies players paused to note the milestone when announced in the arena. Atlanta finished the period the way their captain would have wanted: imposing their will with physical play and keeping the opponent off the scoreboard.
Just :66 seconds into the middle frame, Nesbitt would move on from pro goal #300 to tack on #301. F Scott Conway and F Thomas Frazee found the Seaforth, ON native in a two-on-one breakaway. Nesbitt ripped a shot from the right face-off dot that was initially stopped by Utah G Brad Barone. The rebound sat in the goal crease, and that was where the veteran roofed the puck beyond the Grizzlies goalie to double the lead.
The ferocious visitors from Utah eventually took advantage of a power play opportunity, as F Griffen Morino and F Tim McGauley assisted captain Tyler Richart on his 12th goal of the year. The tally cut the Atlanta lead in half with 12:46 to play in the period. Two minutes later, it was Frazee taking a long-range shot on goal that was sticked aside by Barone. Behind the net, Nesbitt quickly tossed the puck back to the edge of the goal crease. That was where Frazee was waiting for a quick put-back to regain Atlanta’s two-goal advantage before the second intermission.
Utah’s McGauley, who finished the day as the ECHL’s point leader (56), and Richart went to work on the power play early in the third. A scrum in the left corner caromed the puck into the open slot where F Ty Lewis had an uncontested shot on G Chris Nell. Lewis scored his team-leading 21st goal of the season to bring the visitors within one goal 4:08 into the third period.
Despite a continued effort to push the pace with their speedy attack, Utah could not muster a game-tying goal against the stout Glads’ defense. Atlanta held on for an exciting 3-2 win that ended a five-game winless stretch.
The Gladiators return to home ice Saturday night when they host the Norfolk Admirals at 7:05 PM. February 1st is the annual Teddy Bear Toss game, so fans are encouraged to snag their tickets while they are still available!