Special Photo: Amanda Hertel
Gwinnett’s Paul Flache ties up with former Gladiator Myles Stoesz in Saturday’s game at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
DULUTH — Chris Carrozzi got up at 6 a.m. to catch a flight from Chicago to Atlanta and arrived in town less than seven hours before puck drop.
The rookie netminder had a long day, but none of it showed in his performance. Or his face when it was all over.
Carrozzi was grinning widely Saturday night after he and the Gwinnett Gladiators blanked Trenton 3-0 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
GLADIATORS 3, DEVILS 0
What happened: Gwinnett tied its season high with a fifth straight victory in the blanking of Trenton. Chris Carrozzi flew in the day of the game after being reassigned from AHL Chicago and made all 27 saves in the win. Akim Aliu scored a short-handed tally on the breakaway and that early lead was padded by a goal in each subsequent period. Kyle Kucharski jumped on a rebound during a 5-on-3 power play in the second and Andy Brandt capped it with an empty-netter.
No love: Even a native son and former Gladiator wasn't spared the traditional goalie taunting. Dave Caruso, who grew up in Roswell and played for Gwinnett as a rookie in 2006-07, was given the usual treatment by the boo birds in the horseshoe at puck drop. And after both goals. And at the start of the second and third periods.
Up next: These two teams go again at 4:05 p.m. this afternoon at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. Tickets are available starting at $10.
The Atlanta Thrashers’ prospect made 27 saves, including several crucial ones in the first period, and helped Gwinnett match a season-high five-game winning streak.
“I only had to make a couple big saves,” Carrozzi said. “The team defensively played really well. A lot of stick checking that really paid off and blocked shots that really help me out.
“I mean, I get credit with the shutout. But all these guys did a hell of a job and it’s a big part of the result tonight.”
The win was vital as the Gladiators battle for a playoff spot in the tightly-packed lower half of the Eastern Conference. This winning streak has gone a long way to advancing the cause.
“Rozzi was phenomenal in the first with some huge saves to keep the lead,” head coach Jeff Pyle said. “That just breeds confidence.
“(Trenton) has three-in-three and they’ve got us tomorrow. We just want to be smart again. We want to limit turnovers. We want to make sure they know they have to come 200 feet. I thought we did a pretty good job of that.”
The Gladiators have been talking for some time about their need to limit the penalties.
That didn’t happen in the first period.
“It’s the big crowd, you’re playing with emotion, guys are trying to do too much,” Pyle said. “But at least you know there’s energy and guys care. You could see it on the bench that everybody’s there for each other.
“We have a little ways to go, but its a good start.”
Trenton enjoyed four power plays in the first — but failed to convert on any. In fact, Gwinnett scored the period’s only goal short-handed.
Being aggressive on the penalty kill, Pat Galivan chipped a misplayed pass at the blue line to spring Akim Aliu. The Thrashers’ prospect steamed straight up the middle of the ice, outracing two defenseman, and buried a wrister at 15:21.
“That’s a huge momentum swing,” Carrozzi said. “Akim is very skilled and he gets a lot of breakaways for us. That was a huge boost for us.”
Gwinnett stayed out of the box for all but the last two minutes of the second period and scored a power-play goal of its own for a 2-0 lead.
With a two-man advantage, the Gladiators put three guys around the net. A long rebound came within stick’s reach of Kyle Kucharski, who came over in a trade with Trenton less than a month ago. He stretched out to corral the puck and shoveled the puck past goalie Dave Caruso at 5:21.
“The second power-play (unit) on the 5-on-3 scoring for 2-0 was huge,” Pyle said.
Paul Flache took the initial shot that allowed Kucharski to pick up his third goal in the last four games and then treated a boisterous crowd of 7,103 to a hard-swinging scrap midway through the period.
Flache doesn’t get in many fights. But when he does, it’s been decisively in his favor.
The 6-foot-6 alternate captain stood up for Galivan when the skillful forward was being trampled by Myles Stoesz behind the play. Flache grabbed Stoesz, a former Gladiator, and got the best of the trained pugilist by landing a number of furious shots.
It got a roar from the faithful and Gwinnett never relinquished control of the game.
Andy Brandt sealed the win with a hard-fought empty-net goal in the final minute. He was harangued all the way down the ice and still able to tuck the puck home, triggering a wild celebration from team and fans.
“It’s nice to see everybody stepping up in every aspect,” Pyle said. “The fight from Flacher was huge. The shorty by Akim.
“I hate to shoot myself in the foot here, but you can kind of see us growing into a team. They’re having fun watching each other do well.”