Gladiators edged in shootout 3-2

ESTERO, Fla. — The start of the game couldn’t have been much worse for Florida Everblades goaltender Bobby Goepfert.

But it couldn’t have ended any better.

Spurred by Goepfert’s flawless play in the shootout, the Everblades edged the Gwinnett Gladiators 3-2 in the ECHL opener for both teams before an announced crowd of 6,294 fans Friday at Germain Arena.

Florida won the shootout 2-0 as Goepfert stopped Gwinnett’s Aaron Bendickson, Matt Francis, Dan Kissel and Chris Poli.

“He was phenomenal in the shootout,” said Everblades forward Mitch Fadden, who had a goal in regulation and the shootout. “Phenomenal. That was a clinic, for sure. It seemed like he knew what they were going to do.”

While it looked like Goepfert was in a zone at the end of the game, he said, “I just felt good, comfortable. … I knew I had to make a save sometimes when the team needed it because with our up-tempo style, there’s going to be odd-man rushes and chances.”

Gwinnett coach Jeff Pyle also used phenomenal to describe Goepfert — and Gladiators’ goalie Chris Carozzi.

While Goepfert made the plays late, Carozzi stopped five point-blank shots in the first two periods.

“We had a multitude of chances,” Florida coach Greg Poss said.

Through sharp passing, breakaways or great individual moves, Fadden (twice), Evgeny Timkin, Shea Guthrie and Cedric Lalonde-McNicoll found themselves in front of the net with puck but couldn’t put it past Carozzi.

Meanwhile, Goepfert got hit with a goal early as Bendickson, playing his first pro shift, scored in the first 1:15 of the game.

Florida tied it exactly five minutes later on Fadden’s great individual effort.

“I thought I was getting a penalty shot,” he said. “I dove for it and flicked it in.”

McNicoll broke the tie in the second period by going high to beat Carozzi. Gwinnett tied it early in the third when Andy Brandt took advantage of a 5-on-3 power play to stuff the puck home.

In the shootout, Goepfert was at his best.

“I love shootouts,” he said. “I find being a goalie, it’s personal, it’s mano-y-mano. I might overact sometimes but it’s emotional. It’s him or me; and he wants to beat me. You don’t want to talk to me when we lose them.

“I make them make the first move and work them and play off their move because I think I’m quick enough.”

While Pyle hates shootouts — “They’re for the fans” — he liked how his team played for its first game. “We got a point and had a chance to win at the end.”