DULUTH — Sacha Guimond rolled across the blue line, dropped his shoulder and cut to the front of the net.
His shot was smothered by Florida goalie Kristers Gudlevskis, but Brenden Walker charged into the crease and jammed the uncovered puck home, breaking up a tie game and sending the Gwinnett Gladiators to a huge 5-4 victory over the Everblades on Thursday.
It was the first road loss for Florida (8-2-1-1) and just its second in regulation this season. The Gladiators (4-8-0-0) are working their way back into contention after a rough start to the season.
“It’s still really early in the season so you can’t draw too many conclusions from people’s records,” said forward Mike Embach, who had a goal and two assists a day after being acquired from Cincinnati. “Guys are still gelling. Affiliates are still calling guys up and down so you don’t have a roster set.
“I don’t think our record here dignifies what we have. A couple bounces here and there, we keep the streak going and we’ll be fine.”
Gudlevskis came into the game ranked third in the ECHL with a 1.50 goals-against average. The Gladiators, sparked by Embach, well eclipsed that mark and goalie Peter Delmas made the saves he needed to for the win. The two teams return to the Arena at Gwinnett Center tonight for the rematch.
“It’s nice when a guy can come in and make an impact like that,” head coach Rick Emmett said of Embach. “It’s great for his confidence obviously and it’s a nice boost for the locker room.
“That (Florida) team is pretty explosive offensively so you’ve just got to manage that portion of the game and get through it. You always respect your opponent, but at the same time, you have to believe in what you’re doing.”
The Everblades jumped out to a 1-0 lead 2:21 into the game on a goal from Matthew Pistilli. Florida’s leading scorer ripped a shot, the game’s first, from the slot through the five-hole of Delmas.
The goal, Pistilli’s 11th of the year, seemed to wake up the Gladiators and they tied it at 5:34. Josh Curry got to the top of the circle and blasted a slapshot into the back of the net.
Florida regained some control late in the period, but it was Gwinnett grabbing a big lead with 57 seconds left in the first.
Pressuring the Everblades in their zone, Embach gathered in the rebound from a Dirk Southern shot and fed it back to him. Southern, in the high slot, stepped into the pass and roofed the puck for a 2-1 lead.
“We have guys going to the right areas, guys stopping in front of the net, working for the bounces,” Emmett said. “All these things we talk about with the hard habits in those areas you get rewarded sometimes with a deflection or a bounce.”
The Everblades tied it just 3:35 into the second and Gwinnett responded again, scoring twice to go up 4-2 less than eight minutes into the period.
Embach was on top of the crease to capitalize on a scramble for the puck and swept it into an open net. Captain Joey Haddad’s initial shot pulled Gudlevskis out of position and the goalie was on his back, unable to control the rebound.
“I just wanted to get used to the guys I was playing with,” Embach said. “Playing against Joey Haddad, usually we’re trying to kill each other so it’s kind of nice being able to pass to him instead of knock him down every time.
“It’s my first time playing with or against Dirksie, but I thought we had good chemistry and moved the puck well. He’s easy to play with so that makes things easy for me as a first-game guy.”
Embach earned another point, assisting on a power-play goal at 12:34. The Gladiators maligned power play wasted no time converting, winning the faceoff back to Marshall Everson who unloaded a blast from the top of the circle. Everson, also recently added to the roster, popped the water bottle up with his shot and padded Gwinnett’s lead.
The Gladiators kept coming at Florida in waves, but it cost them on an odd-man rush the other way. The play was broken up, but still ended up in Florida’s possession and Kyle Bonis was at the post to slide it under Delmas with 32 seconds left in the period.
The Everblades forged another tie 4:25 into the third, but Delmas held firm from there, finishing with 29 saves.
“We’re always working on bending, not breaking,” Embach said. “I feel like we still had a lot of things to tighten up, but we responded when we needed to.”