Duluth, GA– The Atlanta Gladiators (31-23-5-1) played their most complete game in almost a month on Tuesday night, beating the rival Greenville Swamp Rabbits (32-19-7-1) 6-4 at Gas South Arena. Atlanta was aggressive from the opening faceoff, getting a power play early in the first period but not scoring. Atlanta’s leading goal scorer Cody Sylvester had a chance when he took a great pass from Forward Mike Pelech but fanned on the shot attempt. Greenville turned some of that Gladiator aggressiveness against them when they were able to create a turnover and race to a breakaway while on the PK. Greenville was first to get on the board when Left Winger Tanner Eberle’s shot went wide of the net but came back off the end board and redirected off Center Brett Kemps skate for the 1-0 lead. The goal was Kemp’s 16th of the season. Glads starting goaltender Tyler Harmon was able to come up with one of the many big saves he would make on the night.
The Swamp Rabbits would outplay the Gladiators in the first half of the first period, receiving multiple breakaway chances and odd-man-rushes. Harmon was able to keep the score at one all with a series of fantastic saves that showed the rookie is more than capable of handling his own in this league. At the beginning of the sequence, Harmon loses his stick and had to borrow Defenseman Bode Wilde’s and continues to make save after save while the Swamp Rabbits attack.
The Gladiators created a few chances to even the game while limiting the Swamp Rabbits to minimal chances while down a player. Atlanta, thriving off the strong play of their goalie, controlled the second half of the first period, leading to multiple scoring chances. The Gladiators were incredibly aggressive while killing a Zach Yoder interference penalty in the last two minutes of the opening frame. The first period would end with Greenville leading 1-0 while also leading the shots on goal by a 12-9 tally. It would not take long for Atlanta to even the score as Gabe Guertler won a faceoff in the offensive zone back to a waiting Noah Laaouan as he wristed one under Greenville goalie Ryan Bednard’s butterfly attempt. This was Laaouan’s eighth goal of the season. Laaouan was most recently with the AHL club, the Tucson Roadrunners, and this was his first game back since playing February 26th.
The Glads were able to capitalize on the five-on-three advantage. Greenville would strike back to regain the lead with 8:48 remaining in the period when Carter Souch sent the puck in front from behind the goal, and Anthony Beauchamp beat Harmon’s top shelf with a slap shot. The goal was Beauchamp’s ninth of the season. Exactly four minutes later, Sanghoon Shin would score on the power play to tie the game at two. The play was one that the Gladiators had just tried earlier in the power play where Pelech was down low and fed the puck inside to Shin from point blank in front of Bednard. Shin missed the goal the first time but was right on the money with his second attempt. The goal was Shin’s 23rd of the season and his tenth goal in his last ten games.
Once again, in this back-and-forth game, Greenville would take the lead. The sequence which leads to the goal was strange. It looked like Gladiator Josh Thrower, and Rabbit Dallas Gerads were going to fight in front of the penalty box, and the play had slowed down while everyone was watching. Gerads then skated away while Thrower was trying to hold him. Play continued, and Greenville had multiple odd-man rushes while Atlanta was distracted. Kemp was able to untie the game on a three-on-one play that developed as he wristed the puck past Harmons glove to make it 3-2 Greenville with 2:58 to play in the second period. On the ensuing faceoff, the Gladiators would answer right back with the all-time leader in ECHL games played, Mike Pelech, tying the game at three. The goal would first be under review as it looked like the mooring may have come off before the goal was scored, but that would not be the case as Pelech was confirmed to have scored his 11th goal of the season. The tension that had been building in the second period finally exploded as Pelech, and Swamp Rabbit Miles Gendron would tangle up behind the net after the goal, and both were assessed roughing penalties. The period’s final two minutes would be mostly uneventful, and the game would head to the final 20 minutes deadlocked at three.
The third period would start out with a slower pace, with each team feeling each other out to see who would break the tie and give their team the best chance to win this game. We would have our answer 4:20 seconds in, as one of the newest additions to the team, Forward Mitch Walinski, scored on an absolutely beautiful play where Walinski gained the line and put the brakes on in front of Swamp Rabbit defender Max Martin causing him to fall for a fake. Walinski then drove to the front of the net, where he wristed the puck above Bednard’s glove to give the Glads their first lead of the game. This was Walinski’s first professional goal. Walinski was one of the additions to the team due to AHL call-ups and team injuries. Walinski can help fill the shoes of Eric Neiley, who has been out since late February. A team source told me Neiley would be unlikely to return before the start of the playoffs if Atlanta can make it.
Atlanta’s defense would take over the rest of the game, only allowing six more Greenville shots on goal the rest of the way. Whenever Greenville tried to attack the Gladiator zone, someone was there to take the play away. Atlanta also controlled the puck in their offensive zone, creating multiple scoring chances that were helped by three late Swamp Rabbit penalties. Greenville essentially had four skaters on the ice from the halfway point of the period until there were only four minutes left in the game. With 1:11 seconds remaining, Greenville would pull Bednard for the extra attacker. This would prove costly as Shin would take a pass from Sylvester for his 2nd goal of the night on the empty netter. Greenville would keep the extra attacker on the ice and get a goal from Alex Ierullo with six seconds left to end the scoring for the night. Atlanta outshot Greenville 40-30 to end the game. Atlanta now trails the South Carolina Stingrays for the last playoff spot in the South Division by only three points. Atlanta will be off until Friday, when they travel to Reading to take on the Royals for a three-in-three!