COLUMBIA, S.C. - Joel Stepp made an immediate impact with the Gwinnett Gladiators, scoring a two goals and collecting an assist in a 6-3 win over Columbia on Friday night.
Stepp, playing in his first game since being traded from the Anaheim organization to Atlanta, potted his first goal with less than five minutes left into the first period. He found a rebound in the slot and flipped the puck over the shoulder of goalie Chris Houle for a 3-0 Gwinnett lead.
After former Gladiator Mike Stathopoulos cut into that margin 15 seconds later, Stepp provided the eventual game-winner. Stepp made it 4-1 with 1:04 left in the high-scoring first period. Cam Brown clanged a slap shot off the post, leaving the puck sitting on the goal line for Stepp to jam home.
From there, the teams traded goals with Jeff Campbell providing a 5-1 lead halfway through the second period and Steve Slaton rounding out the Gladiators' scoring 2:05 into the third period. Stepp picked up his assist on Slaton's 11th tally of the year.
Gwinnett, which has already secured a playoff berth, improved to 37-11-7 on the season and plays back-to-back home games against Pensacola tonight and Sunday.
The division-leading Gladiators got off to a quick start when Brad Schell ripped a slap shot over the catching glove of Houle 4:21 into the game. Slaton set up Schell's 21st goal of the year, corralling the puck in Gwinnett's end and whipping it through the neutral zone to Schell.
Defenseman Rick Emmett doubled that advantage 41 seconds later with his second goal of the year. Emmett deflected Brown's snap shot from the left wing circle past Houle.
The Gladiators went scoreless on the man advantage for the third time in six games while Adam Berkhoel made 29 saves in his fifth win.
Gajic rookie of month
Gwinnett Gladiators forward Milan Gajic was selected as the ECHL's Rookie of the Month for February on Friday.
Under contract to the Providence Bruins of the AHL, Gajic was first assigned to the Gladiators on Dec. 26 and garnered ECHL Player of the Week honors during the week for Jan. 9-15.
Gajic only appeared in 10 of 13 games in February due to a recent callup by Providence. The 2001 draft choice of the Atlanta Thrashers posted 15 points for the Gladiators in February. Three of his eight goals were on the power play and Gajic was a plus-7 for the month.
The Burnaby, B.C., native currently ranks third in scoring among rookies on the Gladiators with 43 points off of 20 goals and 23 assists in just 28 games.