DULUTH — The surge started with 30 seconds left in the second period.
It carried through intermission and the Gwinnett Gladiators suddenly snatched control of what had been a see-saw battle against the Wheeling Nailers on Wednesday.
GLADIATORS 5, NAILERS 2
What happened: Gwinnett (14-14-1-4, 33 points) scored three goals in a 3:37 span that bridged the second intermission to bury Wheeling (16-13-0-1, 33 points). The Gladiators got two goals and two assists from newly assigned forward Tom Zanoski to win consecutive games for the first time since Nov. 26-27. A record 11-game losing streak began right after that, a skid Gwinnett finally put an end to Tuesday against the Nailers.
Z back: Zanoski was assigned to Gwinnett just in time for Wednesday’s game. Zanoski, who played 73 games for the Gladiators from 2008-10, has been with AHL Lake Erie this season. He had just six points in 21 games for the Monsters, though, and was a welcome addition to Gwinnett’s depleted roster. He was paired with another fleet-footed forward, rookie Aaron Bendickson, and the two created many good scoring chances from the get-go. Bendickson had a goal and three assists in the win.
Punch out: Gwinnett captain Sam Roberts was out of the lineup after getting his face split open in an altercation with Wheeling’s Joey Haddad. The Nailers’ big forward had clipped goalie Edward Pasquale as he cut through the crease during Tuesday’s game. Roberts immediately grabbed Haddad’s jersey and jerked him up for contacting the netminder. Haddad turtled until the officials were pulling the two apart. Then he plowed his fist into Roberts’ face. The sucker punch caused blood to gush and pool grotesquely on the ice. Roberts was stitched from nose to lip and won’t be able to play for the near future. Haddad was suspended for Wednesday’s game for his actions.
Up next: These two teams complete a three-game set Friday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. Puck drop is set for 6:05 p.m. Tickets are available starting at $10.
They scored three goals over a span of 3:36 and began a blissful winning streak with a 5-2 victory before 3,333 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
A night after snapping a franchise-record 11-game losing streak against the Nailers, the Gladiators benefited from another addition to the roster.
Tom Zanoski, who arrived an hour before the game from AHL Lake Erie, scored two goals and assisted on two more to lead a resuscitated Gwinnett offense.
The defense was again solid as netminder Edward Pasquale won for the second straight night. Assigned from AHL Chicago on Monday, Pasquale stopped 84 of Wheeling’s 89 shots over two nights to help the Gladiators right the ship.
“We found a way to win the first one and, again down here late in the second period, we tie it up and get three in the third,” Gwinnett head coach Jeff Pyle said. “They’re battling. They’re fighting. They’re hitting. They’re doing whatever it takes to win. The energy is there.
“We went through a bad skid, but now, hopefully, we can build off this.”
The beginning and end of the first period weren’t good for the Gladiators, but everything in between was encouraging. It equalled a 2-1 deficit after 20 minutes.
Wheeling’s Ben Street, who was stoned twice by Pasquale a night earlier, put a laser of a shot over the netminder’s shoulder on the power play 2:25 into the game.
“The key is just not to get down if we get scored on first,” Zanoski said. “I mean, 98 percent of games you’ve got to score more than one to win anyway. Obviously, sometimes it takes the wind out of your sails a little bit, but the key was all the guys stayed up. And we got one back.”
After the shaky start — the Gladiators didn’t get a shot on goal for the first four minutes — the offensive attack improved dramatically and the new line combination cashed in.
Zanoski teamed up with Aaron Bendickson and Dan Kissel for a picture-perfect scoring sequence.
“They’re both two good, skill players,” Zanoski said. “They make good decisions on the ice. Obviously, the chemistry was there right away, but that just comes with them being good, smart hockey players.
“You see where each other is going and pretty quick you figure it out. Talking is key, too. So it worked out well.”
Bendickson intercepted a centering pass inside Gwinnett’s zone and found a breaking Kissel on the right wall. Zanoski was with him, stride for stride, on the opposite wing and Kissel threaded a cross-ice pass through the Nailers’ lone defender. Zanoski ripped the puck under the crossbar for a 1-1 game at 13:47.
“Bendy and Z played very well together,” Pyle said. “I told Z you’ll love playing with this kid and I thought Kiss did a great job to compliment them.”
But a grievous sequence in the final 30 seconds of the period put Gwinnett behind again.
The Gladiators were called for too many men on the ice and then failed to clear the zone, despite multiple chances near the left point.
Wheeling worked the puck down low and scored on a rebound with 4.9 seconds on the clock.
“We didn’t communicate and it’s partly my fault,” Pyle said. Gwinnett was scrambling early in the second, but the Nailers’ lead remained marginal.
What was already a loosely-called game got out of hand at the end of period and Gwinnett took advantage of more open ice during 4-on-4 play to tie the game very late.
Wheeling’s Dan Henningson slashed a prone Danick Paquette along the wall, which went unnoticed, then continued to check Andy Brandt against the end boards after the whistle. Brandt grabbed Henningson and took him to the ice. Both got fighting majors.
Paquette and Kris Vernarsky were given unsportsmanlike conduct penalties moments later.
But that 4-on-4 created a chance for defenseman Drew Paris to jump up and even the score.
Bendickson was cutting through the slot and lost the handle on the puck. Paris was pinching in and whipped a wrister over goalie Mike Brown’s blocker at 19:31.
“Bendy made a great individual effort there to draw two guys to him and Drew sneaks in behind him and gets the goal that ties it,” Pyle said. “That was huge.”
Paris was grinning widely after scoring his first goal of the season — and so were his teammates, who have yet to win a game when trailing after two periods.
The 4-on-4 carried through intermission and so did the Gladiators’ momentum. Bendickson got a drop pass from Zanoski and danced his way toward the net. Dodging and weaving, Bendickson let a wrister fly as he was falling. Brown got a piece of the puck, but turned his head to watch as it trickled over the line 46 seconds into the third period.
The blitz wasn’t over yet.
Gwinnett finally converted on its power-play to take a sudden 4-2 lead just 3:07 into the third period.
Michael Forney snapped a cross-crease pass to Paul Flache. The big blueliner was waiting unguarded on the backdoor and banged the puck into an open net. Zanoski nailed the door shut on Wheeling with a turnaround wrister that went through Brown at 9:16 of the third.
“Not two perfect games, but we are getting better,” Pyle said. “We’re getting a little more confidence and now we’ll have a day off to regroup.”