Photo: Amanda Hertel
Netminder Billy Sauer makes one of his 20 saves in the Gwinnett Gladiators’ 4-2 victory over the South Carolina Stingrays on Friday night.
DULUTH -- With Jeff Jakaitis and Marc Cheverie called up to the AHL, the Gwinnett Gladiators were left scrambling for a goaltender.
Billy Sauer, who played with the Gladiators part of last season and was re-signed this summer before being released, was at home in Rochester, N.Y., looking for a job. It didn't take long for Gwinnett to give him one.
So far, so good.
Sauer made 20 saves as the first-place Gladiators began three-straight weekend games against South Carolina with a 4-2 victory Friday night before 4,006 in the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
The victory gave Gwinnett (8-3-2-2) a three-point lead over the Stingrays (8-6-0-1) in the ECHL South Division standings and an Eastern Conference-best 20 points, with games tonight and Sunday in South Carolina.
Sauer might have to play in both of them, giving him three games in less than 72 hours. But after being released by Greenville early this season, he's just glad to be back in the ECHL and is up for any challenge.
"They could play me 10 games in 10 days and it would be fine with me," Sauer said. "I'm just glad to be playing."
"Who knows when we might get one of our goaltenders back," coach John Wroblewski said. "But with the way Billy played, I'm certainly comfortable with him even if it is three games in three days."
Gwinnett helped him by jumping out to an early lead.
"It was good to get off to the start we did," Wroblewski said. "It allowed Billy to settle in. The team gave him a chance to get comfortable, then he helped save the team. It was a big win for us."
The Gladiators, who took six of eight points on a road trip last week, scored two power-play goals in the first period and it was 3-0 just 1:59 into the second period.
Will Colbert scored his first goal of the season on a slap shot from the left point nine minutes into the game and Joey Haddad got his seventh goal with 1:31 remaining in the period on a wrister from the right faceoff circle. Haddad has points in eight straight games.
Then early in the second period, Tyler Murovich picked up the puck just outside the blue line, skated in from the left side and beat Daren Machesney from in close for his second goal of the season.
South Carolina got back in the game, though, before the second period was over.
The Stingrays scored twice in less than four minutes. Taking advantage of a Gladiators' turnover, Chris Higgins beat Sauer from in front after swiping a pass behind the net and Pierre-Luc O'Brien scored a shorthanded goal on a 2-on-1 pass from David de Kastrozza after Gwinnett again turned the puck over.
But the Gladiators pushed the lead back to two goals on the power play with 2:06 left in the period as Bryan Brutlag cashed in from just outside the crease on a pass from Colin Vock for his third goal of the season.
Gwinnett was 3-for-6 on the power play while South Carolina was 0-for-3.
After getting 11 shots in the first period and eight in the third, South Carolina put just three shots on net in the third period despite pulling Machesney for most of the final two minutes.
"I haven't been skating too much, but I've been working out," Sauer said. "Conditioning shouldn't be a problem. I think I'm in the best condition that I've ever been."
In addition to Sauer, Riley Boychuk made a quick impression on his new Gladiators teammates and home fans, dropping the gloves with South Carolina's Dustin Stevenson on his first shift and showing that he can throw a punch.
Boychuk, a Buffalo Sabres prospect in his first pro season, was sent down from Rochester of the AHL. He had one point on an assist and eight penalty minutes in nine games with the Americans.
Although Mike Bartlett returned to the AHL with Binghamton, Gwinnett should be well stocked at forward for the two games in South Carolina. Nikita Kashirsky can return from his two-game ECHL suspension tonight and Spencer Bennett was sent to the Gladiators on Friday from Portland of the AHL.
On the blue line, Dallas Jackson returned to the Gladiators lineup Friday after missing the four games on the road trip with a shoulder injury. Fellow defenseman Brad Miller remains day-to-day with a leg injury.
With three games in three days, things could get chippy in South Carolina. There were 15 penalties Friday night, including two on each team for roughing at the end of the first period.