DULUTH - The line of Scott Mifsud, Joel Stepp and Blue Bennefield, along with strong goaltending by Dan Turple, led the Gwinnett Gladiators to a 4-0 victory Saturday over the Columbia Inferno.
The trio must have been saving themselves to please the Saturday night crowd of 9,124 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. In the team's first three games, they had just two points among them. But they connected for three of the team's four goals.
"Tonight everything went in for us," Mifsud said, clearly happy. "It was nice to get the monkey off your back."
Gladiators coach Jeff Pyle attributed their success to working just a bit harder than they had in the first three games.
"You can't rest on your laurels from what you've done before," Pyle said. "Every night's a grind. I was patient with them, I told them they've got to be more committed. Stepper's grinding and shooting the puck, Miffer's sniffing them out and being a little (pest) like he can be. Blue taking the body and being around the net. When they play to their strengths, they're good."
The Gladiators started the scoring at the end of a high-energy first period. Mifsud centered a pass to Bennefield who was crashing the net for the power-play goal.
The Gladiators carried the momentum into the second period, and poured it on. Bennefield tipped in a laser of a point shot from Jon Awe midway through the period, for his second goal of the night and the season. That was followed by a 4-on-4 wrister from Mifsud, who assisted on both of Bennefield's goals.
The 3-0 lead wasn't enough for Pyle, who used his one timeout to diagram a play on a 5-on-3 power play.
"If we get a good shot there, it's probably the game," he said.
They didn't score on the play, but a few minutes later, Andy Contois stuffed his own rebound under the beleaguered netminder Rob Gherson. That ended the scoring for the Gladiators, who outshot the Inferno 39-24 and went 2-for-8 on the power play.
Turple's shutout came in just his second professional game, a week after a tough 6-5 loss to Augusta.
"He didn't get a fair shake in Augusta," Pyle said. "It was important I think tonight for us to play well in front of him, and him to be big. Both things happened. Early he was big for us, we got good 'D' and the crowd got into it. Once that happened, we started to get our game. Great job by Blue tonight that got some energy going. Whenever he scores, a crowd favorite, he gets the crowd into it."
Mifsud agreed that the crowd helped tremendously.
"It was incredible out there," the second-year forward said. "It gives you a lot of energy - when things aren't going your way for a minute or two, they pick us back up."
With partner Dave Caruso recalled to AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves indefinitely, Turple will be the main guy in net.
The Gladiators are right back at it at 3 p.m. today in South Carolina, where they scored eight goals on Friday, tying a team record. The question becomes, do they have any goals left in them?
"I hope so!" Mifsud said. "We've had a lot in the last few games. The third game in three nights is always tough, especially when you're getting up early, but you've got nothing to save it for with a few days off before next weekend."