Gladiators badger, bury Blades in third period



DULUTH -- Cody Brookwell's first goal of the season was a doozy.

Getting a feed from the half-wall, Brookwell unleashed a blistering one-timer from the point that buried itself in the back of the net, breaking up a tie game and sending the Gwinnett Gladiators to their first regulation win since Nov. 30.

Brookwell punched both fists in the air, Rocky Balboa-style, as the goal-light shone with 8:31 left in the third period of Thursday's game against the Florida Everblades.

"I don't get many points, let alone goals, so when I do get one, it's a great feeling," Brookwell said. "But what makes it even sweeter is when you look back at the bench and everyone is so happy for you, they're losing their minds."

Chris Clackson sealed the 4-2 victory with a deflection of David Strathman's long shot in the last five minutes and pushed Gwinnett back into the South Division lead.

Both goals came on the heels of a huge penalty kill where the Gladiators played short two men for 1:39.

"I think the 5-on-3 kill was bigger than the goal," head coach John Wroblewski said. "The goal was a result of consistent momentum and (Florida goalie Billy) Sauer was excellent. He held the fort as long as he could.

"It was one of those things where the guys were resilient. They kept on it and at some point, with enough pressure, anything will break."

The Gladiators (11-8-5-3, 29 points) were riding a five-game winless stretch that dated back to a 6-3 victory in Florida two weeks ago.

Healthier than they have been in some time, the Gladiators were aggressive and badgered the Everblades (12-12-1-1, 26 points) for much of the 60 minutes.

"The main focus was coming out hard, coming out with intensity and sticking to our identity," Brookwell said. "The key was the forecheck. The forwards did an incredible job on the forecheck.

"They were shoving it down their throats all night long and they opened up the offensive chances."

The teams traded quick early goals and played the rest of the first tied 1-1.

The Gladiators broke out with a short-handed goal at 3:38, Tyler Murovich capping a rush started by Joey Haddad along the right wall. Haddad found Bryan Brutlag cross-ice and Brutlag bulldogged his way to get a shot off.

Sauer, picked up off waivers after a recent stint in Gwinnett, made the save. Murovich shoveled two backhanded rebound tries at Sauer. Those, too, were turned away. Then Murovich pivoted and snapped a wrist shot into the back of the net.

Less than a minute later, Florida tied it on the same power play.

Left alone in the slot, Ryan Donald's shot dribbled through Jeff Jakaitis' legs and just over the line at 4:45.

Both goaltenders held firm in a second period stilted by whistles and penalties.

But one of those infractions helped Gwinnett regain its lead.

Nikita Kashirsky controlled the puck deep in the Florida zone while the rest of the power-play unit went for a change. In the corner, he kept the play alive and found Joey Haddad rushing through in the middle. Haddad sliced around traffic in the slot and, leaning away, lifted the puck prettily into the top of the net at 12:24.

Despite continued pressure on Sauer, it took just one shot for Florida to tie it again.

Josh Van Dyk stepped into a blast from the point that ripped over Jakaitis' shoulder at 17:54.