Over the weekend, the Atlanta Gladiators had a busy schedule, starting with an away game against the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. After that, they faced off against the Savannah Ghost Pirates on Saturday, followed by a matchup against the Orlando Solar Bears to finish the weekend. Fortunately for the Gladiators, Cody Sylvester resumed practice last week and will rejoin the team’s lineup later in the weekend, which is sure to be positive news to fans. As Atlanta prepared for a weekend of consecutive matches, the team was determined to rediscover the successful gameplay they exhibited earlier in the season.
Friday Night (12/1) – Greenville Swamp Rabbits (Away)
A tough opponent to be sure, as the Rabbits sit at the top of the division and the Gladiators have won only one of the last three times these teams have faced each other. The Gladiators were again without the leadership and drive of Cody Sylvester Friday evening, but Micha Miller and Jack Matier returned to the lineup.
Greenville’s Max Martin would score on the Powerplay (10:32) after a penalty by Ryan Cranford sent him to the sin bin, giving the Swamp Rabbits the man advantage. The Swamp Rabbits now lead 1-0. Moments later Anthony Beauchamp lights the lamp again (11:08) bringing it to 2-0. Shockingly, the Swamp Rabbit fury would continue as a third goal hit its way home second later off the stick of J.D. Greenway. Just like that, the Gladiators find themselves down 3-0 with 8:11 remaining in the first period. At that point, the Gladiators would pull Gustavs Grigals from the net, and Tyler Harmon would skate onto the ice and take over for the Gladiators in the net. Jackson Pierson would breathe some life to the Gladiators on Powerplay, getting a goal to cut into the Swamp Rabbits lead, who are ahead 3-1 (15:48). They would close out the period 3-1.
During the second period, the Swamp Rabbits rallied again putting up a goal at the hands of Carter Souch at 5:48 into the first, and the Gladiators found themselves at a disadvantage once more. Ethan Somoza would tally another on the Powerplay after Micah Miller gets sent to the penalty box on a two-minute minor for tripping. The Gladiators, to their credit, still refuse to back down and would strike back with a goal by Alex Whelan, assisted by Micah Miller with only a second left in regulation bringing the score to 5-2 in favor of the Swamp Rabbits.
Heading into the third period, the Gladiators faced a daunting task, trailing by three goals. They needed to score urgently to stay in the game. Zach Yoder was the one to step up, scoring for the Gladiators at the 8:11 mark, bringing the score to 5-3. Despite their valiant efforts, Nikita Pavlychev scored an empty net goal, sealing the win for the Swamp Rabbits. Unfortunately, the Gladiators were just unable to recover from the damage inflicted by the three consecutive goals scored in the first period, which put them at a considerable disadvantage throughout the game.
Saturday Night (12/2) – Savannah Ghost Pirates (Home)
Cody Sylvester made a return to the ice with the Gladiators on his home ice, eliciting cheers from the crowd. The upcoming game against the Ghost Pirates marks the third time these teams will face off this season, with the Gladiators having won both prior encounters.
Tyler Harmon was chosen to protect the net on Saturday night, following his impressive performance in the previous game that kept the Gladiators in contention. Around six minutes into the opening period, Vincent Marleau scored the first goal for the Ghost Pirates when a shot on goal deflected off the skate of Griffin Luce, ultimately finding its way into the net (6:26). The Ghost Pirates took an early lead of 1-0. However, Ryan Cranford responded with a backhanded goal, equalizing the score to 1-1 (6:58).
The second period would see Alex Whelan put the Gladiators ahead, assisted by Cody Sylvester (3:51). It would be the eleventh goal of the season for Whelan. During the last play, Harmon’s stick broke, leaving him without a means to defend the net. Despite this, the Gladiators were able to prevent the Ghost Pirates from scoring through robust front-of-the-net defense. Griffin Luce would put up his first goal of the season, with Jacob Graves and Michael Marchesan on the assist. The Gladiators would hold the lead 3-1.
During a pivotal moment in the game, the Gladiators appeared to have the upper hand against the Ghost Pirates. However, Logan Drevitch had a different plan in mind and scored a goal against the Gladiators at 10:36 in the period, bringing the score to 3-2. Drevitch’s goal provided a much-needed burst of energy to the Ghost Pirates, as Drevitch managed to score once again at 15:23, evening the score at 3-3. Anthony Collins would give Savannah the lead back, swiping one past Harmon’s glove at 17:18 in the period. Mitch Fossier would get one on the breakaway, scoring in the final minute of the second period, with some fantastic stick play getting him there. After the review by officials, the goal would stand, and Dylan Vander Esch would get credit for the assist. With 54 seconds remaining, the game is tied once again, 4-4 and that is how the period would stand at the close.
The third period would see a double minor penalty early on against Zack Yoder at 2:23 for high sticking. It would cost the Gladiators as the Ghost Pirates would respond with a goal over the glove of Harmon by Brent Pedersen. The Gladiators would now find themselves behind, sitting at 5-4 in favor of the Ghost Pirates (4:48). The Gladiators made several thrilling attempts to score, drawing enthusiastic cheers from the crowd as they fought to level the game. One particularly close attempt was sent to the officials for review, but ultimately was deemed a no-goal, much to the disappointment of the home fans. Unfortunately, the replay revealed that the puck had hit the post and failed to cross the goal line. Despite their efforts until the final buzzer the Gladiators were unable to overcome the Ghost Pirates and ultimately lost the game 5-4.
Sunday night (12/3) – Orlando Solar Bears
The Gladiators welcomed the Orlando Bears to the “Colosseum” for the first time this season, with both teams eager to secure a win. Gustavs Grigals would take his place in the net for the Gladiators. In the first period, the Solar Bears appeared to have the upper hand, setting the tempo for much of the period early on. The Solar Bears had largely prevented the Gladiators from getting any significant shots on goal, outshooting them 14-7. Despite both sides’ efforts to surpass their opponent’s goalie, the period concluded without a score from either team as we concluded the first period.
In the second period of the game, the Solar Bears acted swiftly and scored a goal, with the puck slipping past Grigals’ blocker side within the first 34 seconds of the frame. Steven Jandric from the Solar Bears managed to secure the goal, thereby giving Orlando a 1-0 lead. The Gladiators promptly responded with a power-play opportunity following a hooking penalty on the Solar Bears. Alex Whelan seized the moment and scored a goal for the Gladiators, with the assist credited to Mitch Fossier and Cody Sylvester. The score is now tied up, 1-1. The Gladiators intensified their defensive play for the remainder of the period but were largely unable to generate offensive opportunities to score. The Solar Bears maintained their advantage in shots on goal, recording 26 attempts compared to the Gladiators’ 16.
The third period would remain scoreless for much of the early part of the period with both teams making the other chase down the puck. At 12:42 into the period, Patrick Newell of the Solar Bears took advantage of a Powerplay opportunity when Mitch Fossier was sent to the penalty box for a 2-minute minor. Newell successfully slid the puck home, giving Orlando a 1-point lead. Atlanta attempted to tie things up again, fans were on their feet as each shot was blocked by Ellis. Unfortunately, the Gladiators fell short as we closed the period and lost the game 2-1.
It is always difficult from a spectator’s point of view to say what adjustments may need to be made by a team, but here are some suggestions that could be considered.
“Strike First” strategy – The Gladiators need to leverage their formidable offensive talent to gain a strong, early lead. We have seen some great plays by Alex Whelan and Ryan Cranford recently and Mitch Fossier continues to be an offensive points leader for the Gladiators with 26 points (9g – 17a) so far this season. Give these guys every opportunity to score, and they will.
Control the Pace – The Gladiators have noticeably improved their on-ice pace, exhibiting greater control over the puck than in the previous week.
Stay Aggressive – In the game against the Ghost Pirates, the Gladiators had a commanding lead, which unfortunately slipped away from them during the middle frame. The Gladiators should focus on positioning themselves in front of the puck and winning more battles in the neutral zone.
Center Ice Protection –The Gladiators could potentially benefit by adopting a more assertive forecheck strategy, enabling them to regain puck possession in the opponent’s defensive end or neutral zone.
Power of the PK/PP – Early in the season, the Gladiators displayed an impressive PK strategy resulting in several shorthanded goals, remaining 80.3% overall on the PK as they went into Sunday afternoon’s game. However, the PK has not been as productive in the last few weeks. Although we hope not to never rely on the PK, revitalizing this strategy would undoubtedly prove advantageous for the Gladiators should they find themselves a man down. Subsequently, the Gladiators have not always utilized the man advantage efficiently on the power play, especially at times when they desperately needed to do so.
The Atlanta Gladiators will hit the road this coming Friday as they face the Savannah Ghost Pirates at Enmarket Arena starting at 7:30 PM.