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Gladiators drop final exhibition game to South Carolina

DULUTH — South Carolina scored three unanswered goals in the last 10 minutes of the second period and that was enough to beat the Gwinnett Gladiators in a exhibition game Sunday afternoon at the IceForum in Duluth.

The final 5-2 score was inflated by an empty-netter, but it was a close, fast-paced game until the last minute.

After letting a 1-0 lead slip away in the second, the Gladiators got within 3-2 on a Casey Pierro-Zabotel goal at 17:18. But with goalie Mike Lee pulled for the extra attacker, the Stingrays sealed the win.

“I thought that we carried the play for the majority of the contest,” head coach John Wroblewski said. “You have to tip your cap to (South Carolina goalie) Shawn Hunwick. He played a heck of a game.

“We were happy with the momentum we produced. There were some times where we made mistakes and it definitely cost us.”

The Gladiators finally set up on their first power-play chance — more than halfway through it — and converted with just 2:18 remaining in the first period.

Cycling in the zone with the extra man, defenseman Cody Carlson was waiting in the high slot and uncorked a rocket that found its way through heavy traffic.

Gwinnett got another opportunity on the power play seven minutes into the second. The Gladiators moved the puck well, had excellent pressure and several premium scoring chances. One shot, a redirection of Dallas Jackson's blast from the blue line, hit both posts as it slide through the crease and didn't cross the goal line.

South Carolina wrested the momentum away not long after the power play expired. Gwinnett's 1-0 lead disappeared under the Stingrays' onslaught. South Carolina tied it at 10:32 and pulled ahead at 12:04. Marcello Ranallo added his second goal of the outburst for a 3-1 lead with just 1:30 left in the second period.

“There was a little bit of a lack of a 60-minute intensity,” Wroblewski said. “No doubt that cost us in the 10 minutes in the second period.”

Gwinnett had a 5-on-3 power play with a little under seven minutes left in the third and didn't convert. But the Gladiators did get within a goal in the final three minutes.

Christian Ouellet came across the circles and left drop pass for Kale Kerbashian. He beat one defender and got the Hunwick to commit before sliding the puck across the crease to a wide-open Zabotel.

“A lot of the young kids I thought came and exhibited what their reputations preceded them to be,” Wroblewski said. “Christian Ouellet was excellent making plays and pucks seemed to find him. Kale Kerbashian was another guy up front who had a presence out there. He was throwing the body around and obviously made a really nice play on our second goal. And he was robbed there by Hunwick on the doorstep there in the third with a minute left.

“I thought Cody Carlson showed some flashes of brilliance out there as well from the blue line. There were a lot of positives to take out of that game.”

A number of top players were not in the lineup, including Chris Clackson and captain Andy Brandt, and things will change during this week as the roster is refined for the season opener on Saturday.

“We're pretty comfortable with the adjustments we have to make, both mentally and physically, for our club,” Wroblewski said.