Stinging defeat for Gladiators

DULUTH - South Carolina had both its goalies called up to the American Hockey League on Friday, but Ian Vigier remains perfect as an emergency substitute for the Stingrays.

Vigier won his second ECHL start as the Gwinnett Gladiators were beaten by South Carolina 4-3 on Friday. Vigier played well, but it was Travis Morin spearheading the Stingrays' effort with three assists and the game-winning goal short-handed.

The fourth-straight regulation loss set a new Gwinnett team record and had head coach Jeff Pyle once again pointing to the ineffectiveness of the forwards.

Pyle had promised changes before the holiday roster freeze. It hadn't happened before Friday's game and still might not in time for today's game against division-leading Florida. But Gwinnett has Sunday off and new faces could be dressed out for Monday's home matchup with Mississippi.

"Our problem is more with the forwards than anything," Pyle said. "The kid (Vigier) is supposedly a pretty solid goaltender, but we didn't test him enough. We don't have the confidence to finish. I mean, you can see we can't get a break and then we score to make it 4-3. Just good enough to lose, you know?

"They're playing hard, but you can see the confidence level is gone."

Vigier made 32 saves, filling in when Hershey left its affiliate in Charleston, S.C., without a netminder. Vigier, whose pro experience is limited to 42 games in the Southern Professional Hockey League, won his only previous ECHL start, helping the Stingrays beat Florida on Dec. 13.

Florida rolls into Gwinnett today as the Gladiators try again to right a foundering ship. Gwinnett (11-13-4) has lost seven of its last eight games.

"Sometimes you get a bad break, but that's going to happen," Pyle said "But you can see it coming. As soon as we got to 2-2, you're just going, 'Let's be smart, let's be sharp.' Then we took that penalty and I was like, here we go.

"It's an unnecessary penalty and it's in the back of our net."

The Gladiators fought to tie Friday's game 2-2 in the third period, on a deflection by Dan Sullivan at 11:34, but gave it right back on an interference penalty.

South Carolina regained its lead with a power-play goal 17 seconds after Sullivan's tally and Morin's short-handed goal at 18:34 was the killing shot.

Scott Marchesi's goal in the final minute made it interesting, but special teams doomed Gwinnett from start to finish.

"The power play was awful," Pyle said. "The guys know what they're supposed to do, but you can see how tight they are. And, again, you're not getting anything from your top guys."

The Gladiators' once-vaunted power play was again impotent, going 0-for-9, and they gave up two goals on just four penalty kills.

The Stingrays' No. 2-rated power play converted on its first chance. The Gladiators missed an easy chance to clear the zone halfway through the penalty kill and moments later Maxime Lacroix scored his 11th goal of the year.

"The first penalty it starts the whole thing," Pyle said. "You could see the confidence go once we gave up that first goal. We're fragile and we take one of those penalties and that's it."

Gwinnett had two full minutes on a 5-on-3 power play not long after that and failed to do anything with it. The Gladiators barely managed to get set up in South Carolina's zone despite the two-man advantage.

Finally sparking some offensive zing were back-to-back fights by Sullivan and Myles Stoesz.

No sooner had Sullivan been taken off for his hay-making exchange with Tommy Maxwell than Stoesz dropped the gloves with Stingrays' big man Nate Kiser. Those two traded solid blows right to the face in a heavyweight clash that further riled the crowd.

It also got the Gladiators going and Vigier came under steady fire for several straight minutes.

But after all that work to get going and keep the pressure on, it was South Carolina scoring again. And on an ugly, pin-balling bounce that had the puck barely clearing the goal line at 17:37.

"But that's the way it's going right now," Pyle said. "We kind of deserve (the bad bounces)."

Gwinnett made inroads with a goal 4:07 into the second period, cutting the deficit to 2-1. Travis Fuller was slicing into the slot and got a feed from Matt Siddall in the corner. Fuller snapped the shot past Vigier for his third goal of the season. The Gladiators also survived a horrible display while on the power play a few minutes later. South Carolina had no less than three short-handed scoring chances. It didn't end up costing Gwinnett this time, thanks in part to a couple of spot-on grabs by Kevin Nastiuk. But it did elicit a smattering of boos from the crowd.

"We have to work on our power play," Pyle said. "The system is fine. It's just that you have guys that haven't been consistent in it all year. If they stay consistent, we'll get the shots. We may not score, but we'll get the shots. But when we're not consistent, we struggle.

"I don't think that's the only answer, but it'll take some pressure off."