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Zapolski, Gladiators blank Cincinnati

Photo: Amanda Hertel Gladiators' netminder Ryan Zapolski makes one of his 30 saves in his 2-0 shutout against the Cincinnati Cyclones on Saturday night at the Arena at Gwinnett.

Photo: Amanda Hertel Gladiators' netminder Ryan Zapolski makes one of his 30 saves in his 2-0 shutout against the Cincinnati Cyclones on Saturday night at the Arena at Gwinnett.

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Photo: Amanda Hertel Gladiator Justin Milo collides with Cincinnati's David Leaderer as they battle for the puck Saturday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.

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Photo: Amanda Hertel In his first professional game, Gladiator Jacob Drewiske gets checked by Cyclone David MacDonald on Saturday.

DULUTH — The Gwinnett Gladiators continued to play with an ever-changing roster and still managed to keep their scant conference lead with a playoff-style 2-0 victory over Cincinnati on Saturday.

In front of a large crowd of 7,829 in the Arena at Gwinnett Center, the Gladiators got a shutout performance from goalie Ryan Zapolski and maintained a one-point lead in the race for first place.

Gwinnett is battling division rival Greenville, a shootout winner over South Carolina on Saturday, for the top spot in the East. The two teams meet here today at 4:05 p.m. and twice more as the season hits its final weeks.

“It seems we're seeing hot teams,” head coach John Wroblewsi said. “South Carolina was peeking when we saw them and lost three in a row to them (two weeks ago). We're seeing Greenville right now and they seem to be a team that's really peaking. They just took two in South Carolina and they're a hard-working club that put us to the test every time.

“I'm sure it will be a battle. It's their third game in three days, but I'm pretty sure that tomorrow's game will not be your typical Sunday afternoon game. There's a lot, a lot, on the line as far as the season is concerned that should up the ante as far as the energy level and intensity.”

The Gladiators, despite players moving in and out of the lineup, remain among the league’s best.

The newest edition was Jacob Drewiske, who just finished his senior season at St. Lawrence University where he was captain. His signing helped fill a spot left when rookie Bryan Brutlag was called up by Norfolk a few days ago.

The Gladiators also got goalie Marc Cheverie back from AHL Portland, though the Phoenix Coyotes’ prospect didn’t start against Cincinnati. Zapolski got the nod instead and made 30 saves in his second shutout of the Cyclones this season.

“From a goaltending perspective, Zap had to make some very timely saves out there,” Wroblewski said. “I felt that our D corps did an excellent job of making sure that the offense was kept to the outside as much as they possibly could.

“Cincinnati had a very nice corps of forwards in the lineup tonight that assuredly found their way into those good scoring chances and Zapper was there every time when he needed to be.”

Zapolski faced a fair amount of rubber in the first 10 minutes, but held Cincinnati in check until the Gladiators got rolling.

“Every goalie will tell you they'd rather have a lot of shots than fewer,” Zapolski said. “But we've doing this all year. We're used to winning tight games.”

Gwinnett grabbed the 1-0 lead on a goal by David Brownschidle, just his second in 28 games with the team this season. The grinding forward jumped on a long rebound and fire a hard shot under netminder Chet Pickard with just 1:40 remaining in the first period.

A similar play allowed the Gladiators to double their lead at 12:40 of the second.

It was a three-man job with everyone earning their points.

Captain Paul Flache raced to keep the puck in the zone and ripped a shot toward the net. Jonathan Parker was on the post and got off the initial shot. The rebound ricocheted into the slot where Nikita Kashirsky reached out and flung the puck under Pickard.

“That team brings the best out in us,” Zapolski said. “They're fighting for their playoff lives so it makes us play a little bit harder.

“But once we get going and the guys are working hard in front of you, it makes it a lot easier.”