DULUTH -- Rookie Alex Belzile continued to impress with two goals and the Gwinnett Gladiators beat Kalamazoo 4-2 on Saturday.
Playing with a revamped lineup after a handful of callups, the Gladiators also had defenseman Cody Carlson step up with a goal and an assist in the second period which broke open a close game.
Carlson burst out of the penalty box, freed from a ticky-tack tripping call, and fired off a shot. It didn't go in, but Carlson chipped the rebound home on a backhanded shot at 10:19 of the second period.
Just a minute and a half later, working on the power play, Carlson teed up a blast from the blue line and Joey Haddad scooped up the rebound. Haddad gave the Gladiators a 4-1 lead at 11:54, scoring in his first game back after being sidelined with an injury in early November.
"It feels good to help out the team in whatever way you can," Carlson said. "If it's clearing pucks, scoring goals, getting assists, it's whatever helps the team the most.
"Whatever lineup we have, we just want to keep winning."
The South Division-leading Gladiators (25-12-1-0, 51 points) got 27 saves from goalie Mike Lee and remain at home for a rematch with Kalamazoo at 4:05 p.m. this afternoon. Lee gobbled up chance after chance, including a couple of breakaways in the second period to keep Gwinnett in control.
"Mike Lee was the difference in the game," Gladiators head coach John Wroblewski said. "I think they outchanced us, for different reasons, but I thought that Mike was absolutely outstanding. They had chances from in tight or the high slot that found him.
"He made the hard saves look really, really easy tonight. That's a sign of a goalie who is seeing through the play, who is really reading it and finding it."
The Wings (15-18-2-1, 35 points) trimmed the deficit in the third, converting on their seventh power-play chance, but couldn't bridge the gap. Things got a little chippy at the end, prompting Carlson to drop the gloves with Tyler Shelast and complete the Gordie Howe hat trick.
"I might leave the same gameplan up on the board," Wroblewski said. "Because we never got to the point where we could have a conducive effort. I thought the game was in a blender right out of the gate. Certainly that third period was a mess."
Belzile's two goals in the first period gave the Gladiators a 2-1 lead going into the intermission.
The first came just 3:54 into the game, on a perfect set-up from Doug Jones, during 4-on-4 play. Slightly offset goalie interference penalties on both teams created some extra open space and Jones took advantage. He rolled out of Gwinnett's zone and through neutral along the left boards.
Jones had Belzile with him in the middle all the way in and snapped a surgically placed centering feed to Belzile. The rookie didn't miss, redirecting the puck past goalie Joel Martin.
Kalamazoo tied it at 13:50 on a goal by Brian Bicek, but Belzile put the Gladiators back in front less than 90 seconds later. Belzile swept out of the corner and sniped the top shelf at 15:08.
Belzile, who was an extremely effective offensive weapon in three seasons with Rimouski of the QMJHL before turning pro this year, has three goals and two assists in his last four games.
"When we've got our young guys going, it helps even more," Carlson said. "Everyone is contributing and that's what we need to win hockey games."