The Gwinnett Gladiators played the second of nine consecutive road games Thursday night when they traveled to Orlando to take on the Solar Bears at the Amway Center. The Gladiators (33-22-2-1, 69 points) came from a goal down in the third period to defeat the Solar Bears (24-27-2-3, 53 points) by a 3-2 count. The win is the seventh in eight games against Orlando for Gwinnett this season and increases the clubs lead over the Greenville Road Warriors (30-18-2-4, 66 points), who were idle Thursday, in the South Division of the ECHL to three points.
Gwinnett took an early lead when Evan Bloodoff found the back of the net just 1:53 into the first period for his 15th goal of the 2012-13 campaign. Both clubs had limited opportunities in the opening period as Orlando took only six shots on goal, while Gwinnett managed only five for the period. The first intermission came with the Glads holding a 1-0 advantage.
The second period saw Orlando score twice against Glads new goaltender Jody O’Neill (W, 3-0-0-0 with one SO) while Gwinnett was held scoreless by Bears goalie Zoltan Hetenyi (L, 6-5-0-2). O’Neill was making his first start between the pipes with Gwinnett after being acquired by from the Las Vegas Wranglers on Tuesday (2/20) in exchange for future considerations.
Ryan Blair got the first marker at 4:30 of the middle stanza on the power play to tie the game at one, and then Edward Levens put the home team ahead with 3:36 remaining in the period when he netted the first pro goal of his career. After 40 minutes of hockey the Gladiators trailed the Solar Bears by a goal, 2-1.
Joey Haddad lit the lamp 2:58 into the final period to tie the game 2-2 when he beat Hetenyi on the power play after re-directing a Doug Jones shot. Gwinnett Captain Andy Brandt then scored what would be the game winner on a snap shot at the 4:59 mark. It was the forwards ninth goal of the season. O’Neill kept the Bears out of the net over the final 15 minutes of the contest to give Gwinnett the 3-2 win-and bring an end to a three-game losing streak.
The win was only the fourth of the season for Gwinnett when they open the third period behind (4-17).
Haddad (1G, 1A) and Justin Bowers (2A) led the Glads with two points each, while the Solar Bears had six players that earned a point in the loss. O’Neill turned away 24-of-26 shots in the Gwinnett victory while Hetenyi stopped 24-of-27 in the Orlando loss.
Gwinnett was 1-of-2 on the power play while Orlando scored once in five PP chances.
Gwinnett and Orlando will meet again Friday night at 7 p.m. at the Amway Center.
The Glads have seven more road games before returning to The Arena at Gwinnett Center where they will play six of their final seven games.
The Gladiators are the ECHL affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes of the National Hockey League and play home games at the 11,355-seat Arena at Gwinnett Center, located just off I-85 on Sugarloaf Parkway in Duluth. The ECHL is the Premier "AA" League.