Marshall Everson (3), Kurtis Bartliff (16) and Jeremie Malouin (9) celebrate a goal as Gwinnett defeats the Evansville Icemen 3-0 on Thanksgiving night at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. (Photo: Amanda Hertel)
DULUTH — Gwinnett Gladiators goalie Louis Domingue played the last 30 seconds of the game with a player’s stick and put the finishing touches on a sparkling shutout win Thursday.
Celebrating the 3-0 victory over former head coach Jeff Pyle’s Evansville IceMen had to wait though.
In a game between non-division opponents mostly lacking in vitriol, a melee exploded after the final horn. Punches were thrown, players were tackled and the 3,884 left on hand were witness to a rare sight.
The angry outburst was slowly smothered by officials and eventually the Gladiators skated to center ice to salute the faithful. It was just the third win at home for the usually stalwart Gwinnett.
“Every game is important with the way we started the year,” Domingue said. “Every game we’ve got to approach it like we’re a desperate team trying to make the playoffs. Every game is important right now because we’re trying to move up in the standings.
“These types of games, when you’ve got the lead after two periods, we have to get the job done.”
Which they did. Leading 1-0, Kurtis Barliff and Evan Bloodoff scored in the third to seal the win while Domingue made 40 saves.
The Gladiators (6-12-0-0) also set a season high with 40 shots on goal in the first of three straight games against Evansville, the only team they’ve played from outside the South Division this season.
“A win at this point, we’ll take,” head coach Rick Emmett said. “You want to win the right way and we did a lot of good things tonight. All in all, it’s a good effort.
“No matter who is in here, North, South, we’ve got to have that mentality that every game is important if we want to be serious contenders at some point.”
Some puck luck helped the Gladiators to a 1-0 lead in the second period.
First the IceMen (8-4-0-3) had a goal waved off just 1:11 in when Domingue was interfered with as the rebound was banged home.
Then Gwinnett scored on a shot that went off an Evansville skate at 12:13.
The Gladiators kept the puck in the zone with a good fight along the boards and Jonathan Narbonne flung it to the open ice on the far side. Philippe Halley hustled to get to the loose puck and, turning, sent a shot toward the slot. It deflected off a body in front and past goalie Mike Clemente.
“You work for those breaks and we got those tonight,” Emmett said. “It’s been going the other way for the most part and you need some of that to go your way.
“And the guy between the two red pipes was huge.”
Domingue already had made several excellent saves — including shutting down former Gladiator Tom Zanoski on a first-period breakaway — and preserved the lead with another crucial effort. Domingue put a juicy rebound to the open back door, but just managed to slide across to poke the puck away with his stick.
Gwinnett continued to pressure Clemente and the IceMen, setting a season record with 23 shots on goal in the period, and doubled its lead 6:49 into the third.
Just after Gwinnett’s third power play expired, Jeremie Malouin pushed a bouncing puck across the crease to Bartliff, who fired it into the open net for a 2-0 lead.
Bloodoff closed the door on the win with an empty-netter at 18:14.
“We played a great third period,” Domingue said. “The first 15 minutes we were in their zone. They got some momentum at the end, but we killed it off with a nice effort from Bloodoff and his line.
“All three lines contributed tonight. Our ‘D’ corps was strong. Everybody stepped up, everybody chipped in. Even if not everyone had a point tonight or put a goal in, the effort was there and we got a lot of chances.”
The teams play again at 6 p.m. tonight and it remains to be seen what the fallout will be from the scrum at the end. No player was given a misconduct. Six earned minors for various transgressions and the league could hand out suspensions if it sees fit.