Glads Outlast Solar Bears to Add Playoff Pressure
DULUTH, GA - The Atlanta Gladiators defeated the Orlando Solar Bears 3-2 Friday evening to continue nearing a playoff position. F Luke Nogard tallied two assists and F Scott Conway added a goal and an assist in route to the team's second straight victory.
Atlanta's early effort in the defensive zone was one of their best of the 2019-2020 campaign. The hassling of the visiting Solar Bears through the neutral zone stymied any rhythm and allowed the Gladiators to dictate the pace of the opening frame. Despite all that, it was Orlando who found the back of the net first. F Tyler Bird wristed a fluttering shot towards Atlanta G Callum Booth before the puck slipped past his glove and across the goal line. Bird's fifth goal of the season gave Orlando their only lead of the night with 5:53 to play in the first.
It took the home team only :80 seconds to respond, thanks to a tripping minor that put the Glads on the power play. The ECHL's eighth-ranked man-advantage unit needed only :23 seconds of the penalty to strike. Nogard found Conway in the slot for an open shot that ripped by Orlando G Clint Windsor. Conway's 14th tally of the year tied the game with 4:33 to play in the first.
The tight contest turned in Atlanta's favor in the second period, as the team's hottest player continued to produce. F Samuel Asselin netted his 24th goal of the season less than five minutes into the middle frame, with assists from Conway and D Chris Forney. The endless pressure continued to wreak havoc on the Orlando defense, as a flurry of crisp passes kept the puck in the offensive zone later in the period. It was Nogard and F Logan Nelson with assists on F Eric Neiley's 16th goal. The veteran forward gathered the initial shot stopped by Windsor and guided it around the goaltender's pad to extend the lead.
Emotion boiled over when D Josh Thrower and Orlando D Rich Boyd tangled behind the play, eventually losing throwing gloves to fight. Thrower hammers the Solar Bears defenseman multiple times, having to carefully plan his blows as Boyd's helmet failed to leave his head. Officials broke up the bout, but Thrower enthusiastically waved at the crowd to bring the energy level to a peak late in the second period.
The Solar Bears seemed to lack the energy for a comeback early in the final period. A few precise passes began to break down the iron-clad Gladiators' defense. Eventually, it was a tumbling puck in the midst of multiple Atlanta and Orlando bodies that squeaked by Booth with 11:34 to play that brought the visitors within one goal. With the looming pressure of playoff potential, the team rallied defensively in front of the 4,993 in attendance to seal their 23rd win of the campaign. The win, combined with a Friday night loss by Greenville, brings Atlanta within four points of the fourth and final playoff position in the ECHL South Division.
The Gladiators hit the road Saturday night when they visit the South Carolina Stingrays in Charleston at 6:05 PM. Atlanta returns to home ice Sunday afternoon when they square off with the Greenville Swamp Rabbits at 2:05 PM. Fans are encouraged to get their tickets to Youth Sports Day now, as the GHSL seniors will be playing a free postgame showcase at Infinite Energy Arena.
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