Gwinnett Gladiators captain Joey Haddad (27) battles through Greenville’s Sam Klassen (3) and Bretton Stamler (7) to get a shot on netminder Connor Knapp during Saturday’s game at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. (Photo: Amanda Hertel)
DULUTH — Gwinnett lost its first three games a year ago and still won the ECHL’s South Division. That team, though, had a lot more experience than this edition of the Gladiators.
First-year coach Rick Emmett will use the six days off before the Gladiators’ next game to try to bring more cohesion to his young team, which features 12 professional rookies and just a handful of returnees from last season.
Rookie goalie Chris Rawlings made 30 saves after a shaky start in his first game, but Greenville controlled the action throughout in a 3-1 victory Saturday night before a crowd of 6,225 in the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
The Road Warriors, which defeated the Gladiators 5-3 in Friday’s opener behind Andrew Rowe’s hat trick, got two goals from Jordie Johnston this time and goalie Connor Knapp was forced to make just 20 saves.
The Gladiators don’t play again until next weekend, when they are at Orlando on Saturday and Sunday.
Gwinnett couldn’t hold a 2-0 lead in the opener, found itself behind almost from the start in its second meeting with the Road Warriors.
Johnston scored just 89 seconds in when Rawlings had trouble handling the puck and the Greenville made it 2-0 when Lee Baldwin cashed in a power-play point blast with seven minutes remaining in the first period.
Baldwin’s goal came shortly after a boarding call on Jeremie Malouin and a resulting fight between Greenville’s Brad Cole and the Gwinnett forward.
Gwinnett briefly cut the Greenville lead in half as rookie Kurtis Bartliff scored his first pro goal on a 3-on-1 rush with a shot from the right faceoff circle midway through the second period. Philippe Halley and Martin Lefebvre got assists.
The Road Warriors, though, went back up by two goals with just under two minutes left in the period as Johnston beat Rawlings with a quick shot from between the faceoff circles on a nice feed from Michael St. Croix, who got his second assist.
Greenville outshot Gwinnett 15-5 in the second period and had a 28-13 edge in shots through two periods. The Gladiators had eight shots to Greenville’s four in the final period, but couldn’t beat Knapp.
Greenville’s Johnston had six shots, as did Brenden Walker for Gwinnett.
Notes: Forward Alex Belzile, who had 30 points in 40 games with the Gladiators last season, sat out his second straight game with an upper-body injury. That left Gwinnett with just six active returnees from last season. … Gwinnett’s other scratches were forward Josh Currie, and defensemen Daniel Spivak and Brad Nunn. Currie took a high stick late in the third period Friday and Spivak crashed into the boards earlier in the period. … C.J. Lee took Currie’s place and Devon Krogh filled in for Spivak, each making his Gladiators debut. … Maxime Legault of the Gladiators and Greenville’s Ryan Hegarty had a violent collision at the red line eight minutes into the second period. Hegarty didn’t return.