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Last-minute power-play goal lifts Gladiators

DULUTH -- When they needed it the most, the Gwinnett Gladiators' power play converted.

Tied with barely a minute left in regulation against Idaho, Casey Pierro-Zabotel was part of a cluster of players on top of the crease. Doug Jones unleashed a blast from the point and Pierro-Zabotel tipped it home to send a near-record crowd into joyful spasms Saturday night.

The Gladiators made the goal stand for the remaining 67 seconds and walked away with a comeback 3-2 victory over the Steelheads in front of 8,041 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.

The winning goal came on the Gladiators' seventh power-play chance of the night.

"We've been griding a bunch, working on our power play and our special teams," said defenseman Corey Fienhage, who had the game's first goal and assisted on Gwinnett's tying goal in the third. "We had a struggle there at the beginning, but we kept at it, kept being persistent.

"You've got guys going in front of the net, taking a beating from the other team, and it pays off."

Gwinnett (27-17-1-1, 56 points) played a much more responsible game Saturday, one night after defensive breakdowns doomed them against a division rival.

"Especially for myself, I needed to have a good bounce-back game," said Fienhage, guilty of a couple of those mistakes against Orlando. "I didn't have the greatest game last night, but I had a lot of support from my teammates so it was good. We stuck with it. We stuck together as a team and we found a way to win."

The two teams play again today at 4:05 p.m. and Fienhage anticipates another physical challenge.

"Western teams like to play the aggressive type of game and I'm expecting them to come out even harder," Fienahge said. "Especially after we put one in with a minute and 10 seconds left. And they're not too happy with the (penalty) calls. So I expect them to come out even harder."

The Gladiators controlled much of the play in the first period, in part because of three power-play chances, and outshot Idaho 16-6.

But it wasn't until the second period that they cashed in.

Gwinnett grabbed a 1-0 lead at 2:36 when Fienhage wound up a blast from the point, triggering a flood of toys onto the ice. Captain Andy Brandt, who has scored the first goal of the game the last two years on Teddy Bear Night, set this one up.

Brandt corralled a loose puck in the neutral zone and drove across the blue line along the boards. He dropped it for Fienhage and the defenseman drilled a booming slap shot into the back of the net.

The whole team helped clean up the ice of all the toys destined for local in-need kids -- more than 50,000 have been donated in the Gladiators' 10-year history -- making it an abbreviated break in the game.

Idaho (26-11-1-4, 57 points) didn't waste time coming up with an answer.

The Steelheads tied it at 4:25 on a goal by David Toews. A big shot from the blue line whistled wide off the net and thunked off the end boards. The ricochet came right to a wide-open Toews on the opposite post and he smashed it past handcuffed goalie Louis Domingue.

Idaho had a goal waived off halfway through the second period after a collision with Domingue and not long after, the Gladiators failed to score on a two-minute, 5-on-3 power play.

The Steelheads didn't suffer from the same inability. They grabbed a 2-1 lead on the power play at 4:53 of the third period. Austin Fyten took a shot from the top of the circle that Andrew Carroll adroitly smacked into the net with the shaft of his stick.

Gwinnett got even after killing off another penalty midway through the period.

Fienhage got the puck at the top of the circle, held it and crept down toward the slot. His shot was redirected by a falling Alex Belzile and dribbled over the goal line to tie it 2-2 at 11:43.

"We've got a few new faces in here, but everyone is stepping up and playing well," Fienhage said. "It took us a little bit to find our cohesiveness, but we're gelling.

"We just need to keep at it and keep playing Gladiator hockey -- making hard, simple plays and crashing the net and being hard to play against. We won't give up."

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