DULUTH — Dirk Southern set up three goals, rookie Josh Currie lit the lamp twice and the Gwinnett Gladiators beat Greenville 4-1 in their only home exhibition game Sunday at the cozy IceForum in Duluth.
Martin Lefebvre and Philippe Halley, both fresh out of the QMJHL ranks, also scored.
Louis Domingue made 18 saves in the win, out-dueling Greenville’s Jeff Malcolm, who just backstopped Yale to a national championship in April.
“We had our legs tonight and that’s going to be a special thing for this team,” head coach Rick Emmett said. “We did a pretty good job of it on Friday as well (in an exhibition road loss to South Carolina). We just weren’t consistent at it. You could tell the bus legs got to the guys. Not to make excuses, but it’s tough for guys who have never done it before.”
The Gladiators grabbed a quick lead against division rival Greenville, scoring on a deflection 5:12 into the game. Southern unloaded a blast from the blue line and Lefebvre was at the side of the net to tip it past Malcolm.
Gwinnett kept pushing and added to its lead on the power play at 15:00 of the first. Joey Haddad burst over the blue line with Currie on his wing. Haddad snapped off a cross-ice pass and the Phoenix prospect buried a shot from 35 feet out for a 2-0 lead.
“The kid knows how to put the puck in the net,” Emmett said. “He’s obviously one of those Portland contracts that is going to continue to help us out. He’s a kid that’s motivated and wants to play the right way.”
The first period also included a fight — in which C.J. Lee landed the better blows against Greenville’s Ryan Hegarty — and an injury to defenseman Daniel Spivak. A pool of blood was left behind near Domingue’s net after Spivak was cut above the eye. He returned in the second, though, and made an excellent play at the end of the period to defuse an odd-man rush.
The Gladiators treated the fans to another goal and a fight in the second.
Southern and Currie hooked up for a second time to give Gwinnett a 3-0 lead at 7:46.
Pressuring on the power play, Southern regathered a loose puck, cut through the middle and found an open Currie. The 20-year-old rookie made no mistake, ripping the puck into the back of the net for his second goal of the game.
“We got some point-blank shots and opportunities,” Emmett said. “With our speed and the skill set of our guys, we’re going to have those.”
On the heels of that, the crowd was on it’s feet again to cheer for big forward Keven Veilleux, who was just assigned by Phoenix on Friday. Greenville’s Bretton Stamler went way out of his weight class in a tilt with the 6-foot-5, 224-pound Veilleux and paid the price. Veilleux landed a hard upper-cut to start and won decisively.
“You’ve got the competitive edge out there of course,” Emmett said. “Guys want to earn spots and earn a role so you’ve got a little bit of that (saltiness in the game).”
The Road Warriors spoiled the shutout bid with just 1:41 remaining in the second when Sean Berkstresser scored on an unassisted wraparound.
But that was as close as it got. The Gladiators added one final goal at 14:56 of the third with Southern setting up Halley, who came off the bench to jump in the play and beat Malcolm.
“Dirk is one of those guys who is going to get chemistry with pretty much anybody,” Emmett said of his play-making veteran. “He’s just a smart hockey player and he facilitates offense.
“We dressed an odd number of forwards both night so there was a mish-mash out there, but you could see through that some guys excelled a little bit more.”