DULUTH, Ga – When people look at the ECHL standings, they will see that on Wednesday night, the Orlando Solar Bears lost to the Gwinnett Gladiators 4-3 in a shootout at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. There may be a number under the letters “SOL” but that doesn’t tell the entire story.
Sacha Guimond gave the host Gladiators their first win and points of the season with a backhand shot that beat Orlando goalie Christopher Gibson in the seventh round of the shootout. It came after Evan Bloodoff scored on Gwinnett’s final regulation shot attempt to keep his team alive after Mathew Sisca had given Orlando a lead in the third round.
What the box score doesn’t tell you is that the Solar Bears (2-3-0-1) looked like they had lost the game in a span of six seconds early in the third period. It doesn’t talk about how a team that 0-3 on the road chose not to give in, digging deep to send the game to overtime. It also fails to indicate just how important each of the 22 saves – especially the 14 in the final stanza – Gibson made were to Orlando picking up a point.
From the opening draw, it was apparent that Gwinnett (1-4-0-0) was intent on testing Orlando’s young netminder. It took less than twenty seconds for Max Legault and Joey Haddad to put shots on Gibson from close range. It wasn’t until the 6:07 mark when Legault set up Josh Currie for a shot high over Gibson’s glove that the Gladiators were able to score.
It took a little over five minutes for the Solar Bears to solve Chris Rawlings in the Gwinnett net. The play started with defenseman Cody Wild holding the puck in at the blue line and getting it down to Sisca. Sisca then fed Zach Harrison who hit the top corner for his fourth goal of the year – third in three games – and a five game point streak.
From the point of Harrison’s score through the second period, it looked like neither offense was going to score again. Gibson did his part, making all the necessary saves including going post-to-post to parry away a shot with his blocker. Down the other end, Rawlings – who was chased in the second period of Sunday’s meeting between the two teams – was even tougher as he continually frustrated Orlando.
As the second period ended, Harrison was whistled for interference, giving Gwinnett a full two minute power play to start the third. It would prove to be costly as Legault got open in the slot, took a pass from C.J. Lee and scored to put the Gladiators in front. Then off the ensuing face-off, Jeremie Malouin set up Philippe Halley for a score that seemed to stun the visitors.
The Solar Bears gathered themselves and turned the game into a backyard shootout, continually forcing the puck at Rawlings hoping for a break. The strategy paid off at the 5:54 mark when CJ Severyn redirected a Zach Yuen drive into the net to bring Orlando within 3-2.
With his team doing everything it could to create offense, Gibson himself became a shooting gallery target, having to face shot after shot which he calmly denied. His effort was rewarded when out of a mad scramble in front of Rawlings, Jacob Lagace poked the puck across the goal line to tie the score with eleven minutes left in regulation.
Both teams wanted the win badly, keeping the shots on net coming at will. Each squad had an opportunity with a late power play but Gibson and Rawlings (32 saves) refused to blink. By the end of the stanza, both Orlando and Gwinnett had 16 shots registered – a stark contrast to the two period combined total of 24 shots (16 for Orlando, 8 for Gwinnett). The five minute sudden death overtime period featured four combined shots and a post hit by Gwinnett’s Kirill Tulupov but neither goal light turned on.
Sisca beat Rawlings in the third round of the shootout with a hard slap shot that found the top corner of the net. Gibson was perfect heading into Gwinnett’s fifth try when Bloodoff, who terrorized Solar Bears netminders last season, found an opening to save the Gladiators. Two rounds later, Guimond, who was returned from an AHL callup on Tuesday, beat Gibson to end the game.
Following a day off, the Solar Bears will finish their three game road trip with its third visit to Estero to faceoff with the unbeaten Florida Everblades Friday night. The two team will then head back to Orlando for the back end of the home-and-home set on Saturday.
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