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Fallon's debut in goal carries Gladiators to win

DULUTH - The Gwinnett Gladiators aren't setting any records for goals scored this season, but they got a excellent effort from new netminder Joe Fallon in his debut and beat South Carolina 2-1 on Saturday.

The Gladiators still haven't scored more than three goals in a game since Dec. 6, but got enough on both ends of the ice to get back on a winning track.

"All in all, it was a positive," head coach Jeff Pyle said. "It was good for our confidence. It was a good, solid win and you do what you have to do.

"And again, it was great for Joe Fallon. First game and he was solid in there."

Fallon made 20 saves in his first start for Gwinnett. The ECHL All-Star goalie is a Chicago Blackhawks prospect and was assigned to the Gladiators on Dec. 22 after his Fresno team folded.

"I was pretty pumped up," Fallon said. "It's fun to come from one division to another. I was pretty pumped up about it and it turned out to be a pretty good night."

Gwinnett has only played two games since Fallon's arrival and both were close losses to division rivals - including a 2-0 defeat Friday night in North Charleston, S.C.

Fallon helped the Gladiators avenge that result in front of an appreciative 5,142 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. He had his shutout bid spoiled with just 31 seconds to go, but it was on a two-man advantage for South Carolina and didn't take away from the sum of his performance.

"As the game went on, I was actually kind of tired," Fallon said. "I hadn't played a game in a while so I just tried to keep my focus up.

"A shutout would have been great, but I'm pretty pleased with the way the team played tonight."

Matt Siddall and newly named ECHL All-Star Jordan Fox scored for the Gladiators, who got past a depleted Stingray team.

South Carolina (19-9-3, 41 points) remains in second place in the South Division, but was playing with just 14 skaters and lost its goalie to injury early in the third period. The Gladiators (13-15-4, 30 points) won the war of attrition and snapped a two-game losing streak.

"We want to play that way all the time," Pyle said. "I know (the Stingrays) were a little bit tired, but that's an effective way to win against any team. We still missed some opportunities, but I want to see them taking steps forward.

"(Friday) night I thought they played pretty good, they just didn't finish well. Then tonight, we only got two, but two was enough. We could have had more, but we were patient for about 58 minutes."

Gwinnett scored first for the first time in five games, getting a goal from Siddall at 14:19. Siddall eased past the top of the right face-off circle and got a centering feed from Jean-Claude Sawyer. Siddall rifled his fifth goal of the season past Michal Neuvirth for a 1-0 lead.

After dodging a few bullets - or really having them turned away by Fallon - the Gladiators doubled their lead in the final minute of the second period.

Fallon was sharp throughout the game, but made a major difference in the early going of the second. Protecting a 1-0 margin, Fallon first came up big on a one-on-goal breakaway with Maxime Lacroix less than five minutes into the period. Then during a miserable power-play effort, Fallon gobbled up a 2-on-1 short-handed breakaway by the Stingrays.

"It's huge; you've got to have those saves to keep it where it is," Pyle said. "And the breakdown came one time on a blind pass to the middle in a situation where we have the puck on our stick.

"We can't allow that to happen. That's the kind of stuff we have to learn. There's certain mistakes you can't make and that's one of them."

The Gladiators still had the majority of the pressure in the period and outshot South Carolina 11-6.

The last of those shots resulted in a team-leading 14th goal for Fox.

With Neuvirth under heavy fire, Fox grabbed a second rebound and fired it in off the crossbar at 19:02. Fox was falling onto his right side as he let fly, capping a flurry of shots he started with a centering feed to Pat Bateman.

Bateman's shot kicked way out to Josh Engel near the blue line and Engel blasted it at Neuvirth. The goalie turned that away, but Fox was at the post to clean it up.

Pyle praised the moments that preceded the goal as key to the play.

"That whole shift before that, (Adam) Hobson's line with (Andy) Brandt and (Adam) Berti were all over them and they couldn't get out of the zone," Pyle said. "We made smart switches during that shift, instead of guys staying out for two minutes - which kept us fresh and those guys tired.

"So there was just a lot better thinking in the game going on."

Two minutes into the third period, South Carolina lost goalie Neuvirth to an injury.

The Washington Capitals' prospect limped off the ice and was replaced by emergency back-up John Havrilack, who plays men's league in Charleston.

Havrilack did an admirable job holding the fort and Lacroix finally got one past Fallon in the last minute with a two-man advantage. Fox was in the penalty box for elbowing and Havrilack had been pulled for another attacker, but it wasn't enough to overcome the deficit.