Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Gladiators' Justin Milo (12) closes in on the Greenville Road Warriors' goalie Dov Grumet-Morris (1) before scoring the first goal of the game on Saturday.
DULUTH — Justin Milo staked Gwinnett to a two-goal lead and the Gladiators won their third straight game for the first time in almost two months Saturday.
To do it, the Gwinnett had to beat the best team in the ECHL on three nights in a row.
GLADIATORS 3, ROAD WARRIORS 2
What happened: Justin Milo, recently reacquired by Gwinnett, scored the first two goals of the game and the Gladiators held off Greenville for a third straight night. Milo began the season at Gwinnett’s training camp, but the team didn’t have room for him and he’s been with Alaska and South Carolina this season. The Gladiators picked him up off waivers Tuesday and the rookie forward earned his first points with the team in dramatic fashion. He scored twice in the first period to stake Gwinnett to an early lead.
Denied: Very early in the game, Chris Carrozzi had to make a big save for the Gladiators. Greenville was pounding away and had a glorious chance with a quick centering feed to the slot. Carrozzi got a good portion of it and even though the puck slid under him, defenseman Drew Paris was behind him to sweep it out of danger and keep the game scoreless.
Watchful eyes: A contingent of brass from the Atlanta Thrashers, Gwinnett’s NHL affiliate, were in the house Saturday. With the Thrashers off for a night, several key decision-makers watched the game, including general manager Rick Dudley, vice president Larry Simmons and director of player development Dan Marr. Atlanta has a number of its prospects playing for the Gladiators this season forwards Danick Paquette, Michael Forney and Ian McKenzie, and goaltenders Edward Pasquale and Carrozzi.
Next up: The Gladiators remain at home for a game against Florida at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. Tickets are available and start at $10.
The finale of the set against Greenville was just as close as the previous two. The Gladiators held off the Road Warriors in the third to claim a 3-2 victory in front of 5,182 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
“It was a very good game — as tired as we were, we battled,” Gladiators’ head coach Jeff Pyle said.
It was someone different carrying the load each time and Saturday it was Milo, a rookie forward just reacquired by Gwinnett earlier in the week.
“Greenville is the best team in the league and everyone knows that,” Milo said. “They make things tough on you even when you’re winning a game by two goals. We just tried to weather the storm after they scored that goal right away (in the third).
“We’re on a good little streak right now. It feels great. The guys are proud of themselves, as they should be.”
Despite spending a large portion of the first 10 minutes in their own end — in part due to a pair of inadvisable penalties — the Gladiators managed to grab a 1-0 lead on Milo’s first goal.
It was such a poor start, Pyle used his lone timeout 9:54 into the game.
“You can’t do that,” Pyle said. “You can’t win two games and then come out like that. You have to come out and show them it wasn’t a fluke.”
Gwinnett had to kill off another power play after that, but then Ian McKenzie’s hard forecheck created an opportunity in the Road Warriors’ zone.
“McKenzie was flying that shift, hitting guys” Milo said. “He caused a turnover in our offensive zone. I was just trying to follow behind him and the puck kind of bounced right to me.”
In full stride, Milo corralled the loose puck in the left face-off circle. He did a toe-drag through the crease and backhanded a shot under goalie Dov Grumet-Morris at 13:08.
Milo celebrated his first goal as a Gladiator with appropriate elation. But he wasn’t done.
Gwinnett finished the first period with a 5-on-3 power play and Milo cashed in one second after the two-man advantage expired.
Swarming around the Road Warriors’ crease, Milo got his stick on a bouncing puck in the slot and jammed it past Grumet-Morris for a 2-0 lead at 19:48.
“Justin just fits in a lot of places,” Pyle said. “He’s a smart, young player and does some good things and gets rewarded for doing the little things well.”
Keeping cool paid off for the Gladiators in the second period. Defenseman Matt Krug, who’s been known to drop the gloves, wouldn’t engage with Greenville instigator T.J. Reynolds despite being punched repeatedly after the whistle. Reynolds went to the box for roughing and Gwinnett extended its lead to 3-0 on the power play.
Pat Galivan’s outlet pass sprung Tim Miller on a breakaway and Miller rolled in alone on Grumet-Morris. The rookie out of Michigan, who had two goals in Friday’s win, rifled it into the back of the net at 8:23.
The Road Warriors answered a little over three minutes later, spoiling Chris Carrozzi’s shutout bid with a point-blank blast from Marc-Olivier Vallerand in the slot at 11:32.
Greenville weathered another Gwinnett power play at the end of the second and carried the momentum into the third with a quick goal.
Carrozzi wasn’t set and defenseman Sam Klassen’s wrister got past him 24 seconds into the period.
A night after giving up a 3-1 lead in the third and needing a goal from Michael Forney to win late, the Gladiators didn’t let this one slip away.
Carrozzi, who was in net for all three wins, did a yeoman’s job between the pipes in the third as Greenville pushed to get the tying goal.
“Rozzi made some huge saves for us,” Pyle said. “It’s good to see him get his confidence back. The last couple games, he’s made them at the right times.
“Because we’re young, we’re going to make some mistakes. That’s why we can’t take so many chances. We have to be a station-to-station team, wait for chances and then be opportunistic. When we do that, we’re good.”