DULUTH — Coming off a big win over league-leading South Carolina, the Gwinnett Gladiators didn’t have the same concerted effort against Orlando.
The Gladiators, still dealing with goaltending issues, couldn’t hold onto a second-period lead and fell 5-2 to the Solar Bears on Sunday.
After the only starting goalie Gwinnett still had in it’s stable, Peter Delmas, was injured in Friday’s 3-2 victory over South Carolina, the Gladiators had backup Matt Cooper in net again. Cooper didn’t fare nearly as well as he did in relief of Delmas, giving up three goals on 10 shots in just over 25 minutes of action.
Andrew Loewen, called up from the Columbus Cottonmouths just in time for the game, replaced Cooper. There was little Loewen could have done on the two goals he gave up since both were on good plays by the Solar Bears, but those tallies broke open a close game.
“Certainly those were no fault of his,” head coach Rick Emmett said of Loewen. “He’s a pro and did a great job for us. And Coop battled. That’s all you ask for. That’s what we got. We certainly didn’t help them with the go-ahead goal (on a turnover).”
Gwinnett is bringing in Paul Karpowich — in fact, plane trouble kept him from being here in time for Sunday’s game — to shore up the situation in net. Delmas’ foot was in a boot Sunday and is getting re-evaluated today, but it’s almost certainly several weeks before he could be back.
Karpowich had good numbers for a beleaguered Evansville team last season and started in Bakersfield this year. He was scheduled to be on a 6:30 a.m. flight from Peoria, but was delayed due to engine trouble.
“I think we’ve got some stability with Paul coming in,” Emmett said. “He’s got some playing time in our league. I think that gives us the best opportunity at this point to keep building as a team.”
Orlando (15-10-0-1) opened up a 1-0 lead at 9:26 of the first period when Scott Tanski fired a shot from the slot between goalie Matt Cooper’s leg pads.
The Gladiators (7-15-0-2) managed just two shots on goal in the period, but generated a couple of solid chances and were just down one goal at intermission.
Gwinnett grabbed a 2-1 lead in the second, but gave it all back and more with quite a few soft goals scored on both ends.
Defenseman Sacha Guimond tied it 1-1 just 24 seconds into the period, wheeling into Orlando’s zone and firing off a hard wrister that foiled goalie John Curry. The netminder threw back his head in reaction, but that paled in comparison to the explosion after the Gladiators went up 2-1 hardly two minutes later.
Curry failed to control a rebound, it bounced off Maxime Legault and went in. Curry immediately chased after referee Peter MacDougall in vehement protest. Then he shoved three of the Gladiators as they skated by his net after celebrating the go-ahead goal at 2:36.
The good tidings were short-lived though.
Orlando’s Zach Harrison and Michael Catenacci teamed up to score two goals, the first at 3:55 and again at 5:03. The second came off a terrible turnover in the slot by defenseman Kirill Tulupov. Catenacci rifled a shot over Cooper’s shoulder, giving the Solar Bears a 3-2 lead and cuing a goalie change for Gwinnett.
“That’s the momentum right there,” Emmett said. “We have a 2-1 lead, and in our situation, that was pretty valuable at that point. Then a huge turnover and we never really seemed to recover.
“We had chances, but that was a crucial error.”
Loewen took over between the pipes, but Orlando stretched it’s lead to 4-2 on the game’s first pretty goal at 16:48. Jacob Cepis deked to the side, twisting up Loewen and slid an backhanded shot under the 28-year-old netminder.
Tyler Murovich added to that — and to his former team’s frustrations — with a goal 2:55 into the third period. Set up beautifully by Blake Kessel on a cross-crease feed, Murovich had an open net and banged the puck home.
“We have to stick with the plan,” Emmett said. “We got up 2-1 and got away from that. You start to loosen up and got away from that. Keeping it simple. Chipping and chasing. Keeping pucks going north. We started going east-west.
“That fourth goal, just sitting back there. We talk about getting our feet moving and defensemen taking ice. When you run out of room, the default is high flip out of the zone and re-rack. Certainly we got away from the identity of what got us the lead.”