DULUTH - Matt Siddall scored his first professional hat trick and the Gwinnett Gladiators snapped a three-game losing streak against league-leading Florida on Sunday.
Siddall capped his three-goal night with a short-hander that closed the door on the Everblades in the third period. It secured a much-needed 6-3 victory for Gwinnett, which is battling for the final playoff spot in the ECHL South Division.
"Sidds was phenomenal tonight," Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle said. "He's come so far. He's really developing mentally. He stepped it up as a leader on the bench.
"And great job by our 'D' tonight, too. The penalty kill was really good, the power play was pretty good. In the end, we needed that win for our confidence."
Gwinnett gained a 4-1 lead, in large part because of Siddall's efforts, but watched as nearly all of that slipped away to the mighty Everblades in the third period. Florida got within 4-3 early in the third and the Gladiators were at the end of a four-minute penalty kill when Siddall sparked a massive celebration.
Adam Berti created a turnover inside the Everblades blue line with an aggressive forecheck and Siddall came swooping into the zone for an odd-man rush. Siddall danced in, deked forehand and scored backhand to salt away the win.
"All the credit (to Berti)," Siddall said. "He had a great forecheck and playing with him and (Jordan Fox), you just play your position and they're going to find you. I thought we moved the puck well and had a lot of chances as a line.
"We've just really got to start building as a team toward these next 11 games. We've got to have a huge push just to make it in. We've got to really put together a string here."
Siddall also earned an assist by setting up defenseman Mike Looby on what ended up being the game-winner 3:22 into the third period. Looby backed across the crease and Siddall made the back-hand dish. Looby pounded home his fourth goal of the season, but first as a Gladiator to give Gwinnett a 4-1 margin.
Florida began to mount a comeback attempt not long after that though with two goals just over a minute apart. The first came on a rebound after goalie Joe Fallon made a good initial save. The second was courtesy of a horrible defensive breakdown.
Siddall's third goal got the train back on track at 13:17 and sent the Gladiators on their northern road trip with some momentum. Gwinnett (27-28-6) leaves late tonight for two games in Cincinnati and two games in Dayton. With just three weeks left in the regular season, the Gladiators are back ahead of Mississippi for fourth place.
"That was a huge win - we needed that," Siddall said. "Hopefully we can carry that into next week."
After a scoreless first period, the Gladiators grabbed a 3-0 lead in the second.
Siddall scored twice in the first six minutes and then drew the penalty that Dirk Southern converted on to make it 3-0.
Siddall's first goal also came on the power play. The Atlanta prospect got a drop pass from Brandon Kaleniecki just inside the Florida blue line, got to the top of the circle and leaned into a wrister. Everblades goalie David Leggio never even moved as the shot whistled past 46 seconds into the period.
"I think it was a little bit lucky," Siddall said. "I got a good bounce off his shoulder, but I was just coming down the wall and I could here everyone on the bench screaming 'Shoot!'
"Kal made a good play dropping the puck and taking the 'D' to the net. It just opened up a lane so you just kind of bear down and give it a go. We were lucky enough to pop one there."
Siddall doubled the lead with another shot from up high at 5:21. Leggio was screened by Berti and a Florida player in the slot.
Leggio argued vehemently with referee Jason Rollins, seemingly over a high stick, but Siddall's 14th goal of the season stood up and then the skilled forward drew an interference call at 13:39.
Thirteen seconds into the power play, Southern teed it up from the left face-off dot and beat Leggio far side.
But Pat Bateman took a boarding penalty with one second left in the period and Florida converted just 44 seconds into the third period to make it 3-1. That was the start of some penalty issues as Gwinnett opened the door for the opportunistic Everblades.
"That team is dangerous," Pyle said. "And you can't do that (take penalties). We break down a couple times, but I give the guys credit.
"The way we played for the first 40 minutes, there's nothing you can say we did really wrong. We were a little sloppy at times, but that's the best team in the league. You're not going to dominate them the whole time."
After Siddall finished out the hat trick, Bateman iced the win with an empty-netter.