ECHL Game Recap: Atlanta Gladiators vs. Savannah Ghost Pirates | 12.29.23

Photo: Taylor Trebotte for Inside the Rink

During last night’s game, the Atlanta Gladiators hosted their Marvel Superhero night with a Star Lord theme, which seemed fitting for the occasion. The Guardians of the Galaxy series imparted an important lesson for its fans – largely that of being adaptable and continuously learning. Though Peter Quill (Star-Lord) claims, “I don’t learn. One of my issues,” the Guardians and the Gladiators alike go on to demonstrate just that – their ability to learn and adapt to overcome obstacles.

The Gladiators welcomed back Mitch Fossier, who had been out of action due to a lower-body injury in recent weeks. Unfortunately, Jacob Graves and Dylan Vander Esch did not play for Atlanta, as they were listed as on reserve. Meanwhile, Connor Casparie and Michael Marceshan remained on IR for the Gladiators.

After parting ways with Frankie McClendon, the Atlanta Gladiators signed Cole Cici to their roster. Cici had 11 games under his belt this season with the Evansville Thunderbolts in the SPHL, boasting a .923 save percentage. Cici would play his first professional hockey game with the Gladiators in what was a bold move made by coach Derek Nesbitt. In the net for the Savannah Ghost Pirates was netminder Jordan Papirny.

Period 1

Savannah put Gladiators’ Cole Cici to the test right at the beginning of the game, constantly pressing the goalkeeper. However, Cici rose to the occasion and made a few impressive saves. The Gladiators would then be sent to the PK but would successfully kill the penalty on Jack Matier for slashing (3:21).

The Gladiators would strike first as Nolan Burke of Atlanta passed the puck to Ryan Cranford, who then tapped the puck past Savannah’s goalkeeper, Jordan Papirny, into the net (8:05). Although it initially appeared that the puck may have been tipped off Cranford’s skate, upon review by the officials, the goal would stand, putting the Gladiators ahead with a score of 1-0.

Savannah was once again putting pressure on Cici. During the PP opportunity that arose after Carson Gicewicz was sent off to the sin bin for tripping, the Ghost Pirates were given the opportunity they needed. Brandon Estes of the Ghost Pirates took advantage and scored a goal on the Gladiators, tying the game at 1-1 (16:20).

The Gladiators would go on the PK one more time before the close of the period after getting caught with too many men on the ice but were able to kill that penalty as we ended the period. The Gladiators had only 6 shots on goal this period compared to Savannah’s 12.

Period 2

Early in the middle frame, Mitch Fossier would put the Gladiators up by one as he took the pass from Nolan Burke and struck it past Papirny (1:51). Blake Eveenou and Reece Vitelli would get credited for the assist that put the Gladiators ahead 2-1. This would mark the 10th goal for Fossier.

The Gladiators would get sent to the PK once again as Nolan Burke gets caught for tripping, but Atlanta couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity.

The Gladiators would get their PP chance later in the period when Sebastian Vidmar gets the 2-minute minor for hooking. However, Savannah killed off their penalty, and we closed the second period 2-1 in favor of the Gladiators. The Gladiators would go back on the PK after a tripping penalty was called on Reece Vitelli, but Cole Cici made a sweet save as the Ghost Pirates made a quick shot on the net at the end of the PP, nearly tying the game had it not been for the quick save by Cici. The Gladiators were outshot again that period, getting 8 shots on the net compared to Savannah’s 13.

Period 3

The final frame would see the Ghost Pirates make a surge to turn things back their way as they kept the Gladiators out of their offensive zone and struck on the net guarded by Cici. Micah Miller, however, attempted a wrap-around shot from behind the net but was denied by Savannah’s netminder. It was shortly after that Navrin Mutter would get Papirny off guard as he hit the puck, assisted by Jackson Pierson and Jack Matier, and the Gladiators notch another tally, bringing the score in their favor, 3-1.

Gladiators’ fans were on the edge of their seats when Patrick Guay (#47) made his move. Guay scored two goals, the first at 5:10 and the second made on a rebound at 11:07, causing the Gladiators to scramble as the game was now tied 3-3. The Gladiators had to go on the PK one more time, this time on Mitch Fossier for tripping, although the fans disagreed with the call and made that clear to the refs. The Gladiators, however, were unfazed and successfully killed the penalty. In the end, Luke Prokop, with the help of Jack Matier and Micah Miller, scored, bringing the Gladiators ahead once more (13:50).

In the final two minutes of an action-packed game, the Gladiators fended off the Ghost Pirates’ attempts to even the score. The Ghost Pirates pulled their goalie and launched a full-scale attack on Atlanta’s goal, but Cici and his team held steady, keeping the Savannah at bay. In a decisive play, Micha Miller intercepted a pass from Savannah and delivered the final blow, scoring an empty net shot that sealed the victory for Atlanta with a final score of 5-3.

Three Stars of the Game:
1. ATL – C. Ceci
2. ATL – N. Mutter
3. ATL – L. Prokop

Takeaways:

Penalty Kills – Aside from the goal made by Brandon Estes in the first, the Gladiators were able to successfully kill the majority of the penalties enforced upon them. However, the Gladiators were in the box six times for a total of 12 minutes.

Puck Awareness – far fewer missed passes and turnovers for the Gladiators during the game against Savannah on Friday.

The Gladiators’ defense played a critical role in the game, effectively protecting their net and assisting goaltender Cole Cici. This was a marked improvement for the team compared to earlier in the season when they struggled with defending the net. Throughout the game, the team’s solid defense proved to be a key factor in maintaining their momentum and securing the victory. Cici’s impressive performance in his first professional appearance after being recently signed also added to the team’s success.

Photo: Taylor Trebotte for Inside the Rink

Karen Zehner

Credentialed Beat Writer covering the ECHL Atlanta Gladiators. Diving into the world of slap shots, penalty kills, and the game we love. [@RunwithK] on socials

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