DULUTH, GA – The Atlanta Gladiators routed the Orlando Solar Bears 6-1 Friday evening to kick off Hockey Fights Cancer Weekend. F Avery Peterson had a three-point night (2G, 1 A) as five other Glads posted multi-point games in the victory.
The playoff implications of the contest created a tense atmosphere early at Infinite Energy Arena. As he has so many times this year, it was veteran F Eric Neiley breaking the ice for the Gladiators. F Samuel Asselin and F Luke Nogard assisted the veteran on his 20th goal of the season less than six minutes into the game. This opened a 5:15-span that saw the home team erupt for four goals to shellshock the visiting Solar Bears. D Joel Messner earned the second tally, while Peterson netted back-to-back scores to give Atlanta the 4-0 lead with 8:54 to play in the opening frame.
The Glads were not finished, as F Logan Nelson fed F Tommy Marchin in the defensive zone before the All-Star launched a stretch pass that hit Asselin in stride behind the Orlando defense. The rookie tallied his team-leading 26th goal, also breaking a tie for the league lead in goals scored by rookies this season.
The second period saw both teams clamp down defensively. The Solar Bears could not establish any offensive rhythm as the Atlanta defense honed in on their entry attempts in the neutral zone. Orlando earned a power play opportunity late in the frame when Marchin committed an interference minor. In the waning seconds of the penalty kill, captain Derek Nesbitt gathered the puck behind the net before throwing it to the neutral zone where Marchin had just left the sin bin. The Brown University product found Neiley on a tape-to-tape pass as the team’s point leader streaked into the offensive zone. After an initial stop by Orlando G Jeff Smith, Marchin was there to put back the rebound and give Atlanta a 6-0 cushion at the second intermission.
The Gladiators continued their dominant effort in the final frame, navigating power play opportunities by Orlando with ease. The visiting Solar Bears finished the night 0-for-4 on the man-advantage. Gladiators G Chris Nell carried a shutout bid into the final minute before Orlando D Alexander Kuqali bagged a late score. The 6-1 victory was Atlanta’s sixth straight game with a point and puts them just one point behind Orlando for the South Division’s fourth and final playoff spot.
Atlanta hits the ice again Saturday evening when they host the Norfolk Admirals at 7:05 PM for the second day of Hockey Fights Cancer Weekend. Fans can secure $19 premium tickets as the Glads push towards the playoffs!