ORLANDO, FL – The Atlanta Gladiators defeated the Orlando Solar Bears 6-3 Tuesday night to move into a playoff position with 13 games to play in the regular season. Captain Derek Nesbitt netted a four-point night (1G, 3A) and the team’s point leader Eric Neiley snagged a three-point night of his own (2G, 1A).
After a calm opening ten minutes, the home team began to dissect the visiting Gladiators’ defense. F Taylor Thompson assisted F Jimmy Huntington on his third tally of the year with 8:51 to play in the first. Just 1:24 after the opening score, Orlando doubled their advantage. F Taylor Cammarata and F Trevor Olsen found D Cody Donaghey for his fourth goal of the season. As Atlanta tried to recover, the Solar Bears continued to press. Donaghey and Orlando captain Chris LeBlanc created a scoring opportunity before Olsen pushed a puck across the goal line with 5:28 to play in the period. Despite a video review for potential goalie interference, the Solar Bears held a 3-0 advantage early.
Atlanta began to throw around their bodies and rally when Eric Neiley found F Samuel Asselin in the front of Orlando G Jeff Smith’s goal crease. After the initial shot was stopped, Derek Nesbitt shuffled the puck across the goal line for his 14th score of the campaign to get Atlanta on the board with 4:40 to play in the first. With 3:05 to play in the frame, Olsen committed a holding penalty to give the Gladiators a power play opportunity. Nesbitt found D Joel Messner at the center of the blue line for a long-range blast before F Avery Peterson redirected the attempt to find the back of the net just 1:56 after the first score. The frantic first period came to an end with Orlando leading 3-2.
The Gladiators built on that momentum in the middle frame as they overpowered the home team in the second period. D Chris Forney and Nesbitt worked behind the Orlando net before finding defenseman-turned-forward Zach Malatesta in the slot. The Boston, MA native wristed his 13th goal of the year beyond Smith to tie the game with 9:19 to play in the period.
From this point, Atlanta’s point leader Eric Neiley took over the game. After an interference minor put the Solar Bears on the man-advantage, Neiley gathered the puck in the defensive zone looking to clear. He skated the puck to the red line before chipping it in on Smith, forcing the netminder to make a save. The rebound came back to the Dartmouth product before he notched the team’s eighth short-handed goal of the year to give Atlanta the lead for the first time. Nesbitt and Messner combined to produce a shot on goal that was saved before the rebound was once again cleaned up by Neiley. The offensive onslaught gave the Gladiators a 5-3 lead after forty minutes.
The wave of momentum was converted into defensive execution in the final period. Led by G Sean Bonar, Atlanta clamped down on the Solar Bears and added another tally for good measure. F Scott Conway, returning from Providence earlier on Tuesday, found F Tommy Marchin behind the net. The team’s All-Star fed the puck in front of the net where F Luke Nogard cranked the one-time shot by Smith to give the Glads a 6-3 lead with 8:57 to play. Orlando’s best efforts were thwarted down the stretch as Atlanta held on for the road win.
The victory was the Gladiators’ fifth straight, and it extended their current point streak to eight games. The win lifts Atlanta into a playoff position, as they tied Greenville with 59 points for third in the ECHL South Division. The loss moves Orlando to fifth in the division with 58 points.
Atlanta returns to home ice Friday night when they host these same Orlando Solar Bears at 7:35 PM. Fans are encouraged to secure their$19 tickets to Marvel Super Hero Night today!