Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Gwinnett Gladiators forward Tony Lucia (29) checks Ontario Reign defenseman Adrian Van de Mosselaer (2) into the boards during the first period of hockey action at the Arena at Gwinnett Center on Friday.
DULUTH -- Last season ended in disappointment for the Gladiators and this one hasn't started the way they had hoped either.
At least Gwinnett will be back on the ice tonight and again Sunday as it tries to get on track.
The Gladiators, who were eliminated in the first round of the ECHL playoffs last season after winning the South Division title, lost their home opener in regulation for the first time in the team's 10-year history Friday night.
The Ontario Reign, making a trip east from California, dropped Gwinnett to 0-2-0 on the young season with a penalty-filled 4-2 victory before a crowd of 5,612 in the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
"We'd had six days off after our first game and that's not congruent to pro hockey," Gladiators coach John Wroblewski said. "Ontario had played three games and the difference showed."
The Reign (3-1-0) took a quick 2-0 lead before some of the fans had got settled in their seats and two goals by Doug Jones of Marietta wasn't enough to get the Gladiators back in the game.
"We had no quit and stood up for ourselves," Wroblewski said. "But it showed in the first period that Ontario was further along in maturing together as a team."
The Gladiators will get an opportunity to jell with another home game tonight against Greenville and then a trip to face the Road Warriors in South Carolina on Sunday.
Jones, though, already appears to be in midseason form. The former Dartmouth player had two assists at South Carolina and now has four points in two games.
"He's a tremendous player and really come along since we had him at the end of last season," Wroblewski said. "He's got a knack for this game and he's got the work ethic to back it up."
There were 34 penalties called in the game, 21 of them in the fight-filled third period. There were three game misconducts and six fighting majors.
The most drawn out bout was between Gwinnett's Maxime Villemaire and Ontario's Chris Cloud, with both tossing off their helmets and gloves for a long tussle.
Like in the opening 4-3 loss at South Carolina, Gwinnett had an edge in shots (31-25). But the Gladiators were forced to play catch up from the start after goalie Mike Lee gave up two quick goals. Brock Sheahan scored 89 seconds in on a shot from high between the circles and Dan DaSilva converted from in close off a feed from Kyle Kraemer with 3:41 gone.
Then the physical play picked up and things got chippy after each goalie was run into. Gwinnett's Tyler Murovich got a double-minor for roughing after the first incident and Paul Mara of Ontario received a pair of minors after he got into a tussle with the Gladiators' Chris Clackson later. There were nine penalties in the opening period.
Gwinnett cut the deficit in half 7:21 into the second period when Jones jammed the puck past goalie Jean-Francois Berube after the Gladiators controlled an offensive-zone faceoff. Cody Brookwell and Villemaire were credited with assists.
But Ontario pushed its lead back to two goals with 3:35 left in the period on a power play. With Joey Haddad in the penalty box for boarding, Vincent LoVerde converted from the right side of the net after a feed from Kraemer.
The Gladiators had a chance to cut into the Ontario lead before the end of the period, but Christian Ouellet was stopped by Berube on a breakaway.
Ontario then went up by three goals when C.J. Stretch scored from straight away on a feed from Derek Couture with 12:34 left to play.
Jones scored his second goal during a 4-on-3 power play with 6:11 remaining, converting off a pass from Casey Pierro-Zabotel. But that was as close as the Gladiators could get.