Gwinnett Gladiators Josh Currie scores on Elmira’s netminder Neil Conway and Dane Walters (23) and Kyle Bushee (7) on Saturday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. (Photo: Amanda Hertel)
DULUTH — For a team not headed to the postseason the Gwinnett Gladiators sure played like a playoff team as they routed the Elmira Jackals 7-0 in their final game of the season.
The offensive outburst was led by multi-point nights from forwards Brenden Walker, Casey Pierro-Zabotel and Marshall Everson who combined for six of the Gladiators seven goals.
Walker recorded his first career hat trick for Gwinnett as he tallied one goal in each period, including the final goal of the team’s season. The hat trick also gave him the team lead in goals scored for the Gladiators on the season.
Pierro-Zabotel had two goals and an assist including the game’s opener at 9:58 in the first.
The Ashcroft, British Columbia native put home a one-timer on the right doorstep completing a beautiful tic-tac-toe 3-on-2 rush with Maxime Legault, Chris Culligan getting the two helpers.
The play originated in the Gladiators’ zone after goalie Mark Guggenberger kicked out a long rebound to Culligan, who bolted up the ice with Legault and Pierro-Zabotel. The goal was Pierro-Zabotel’s sixth of the season in 35 games for Gwinnett this season.
The second goal was Walker’s first of the evening. as Walker took a quick feed and wristed it between Elmira goalie Neil Conway’s glove and outstretched left leg as Pierro-Zabotel screened Conway in front to give Gwinnett the 2-0 lead.
Defensively, Guggenberger turned away all 21 shots he faced on the evening and complemented the effort in front of him.
“It was great,” Guggenberger said of getting the shutout. “We had a great team effort tonight and it shows in our score to come out with seven goals on the night. That was huge. We weren’t really sure how we’d come out as a group. It was kind of a let down, a disappointment on Wednesday so I’m glad to see all the guys came back and put the work boots on for one final game.”
In the second period, the Gladiators broke the game wide open adding three goals for a 5-0 lead after 40 minutes.
Everson extended the Gwinnett lead to 3-0 as he redirected defenseman Matt Clune’s shot from the top of the left circle beating Conway between the legs.
The Gladiators fourth goal came once again via help from Everson. He picked off an errant Elmira pass in their offensive zone he made a quick move to the left corner and dished it back to Pierro-Zabotel one-timed the feed over Conway’s glove.
Gwinnett would get their final tally of the second period as Walker poked home a rebound that snuck behind Conway with 6.6 seconds remaining.
Gwinnett topped off the offensive outburst with two shorthanded goals in their final 20 minutes of the season.
Josh Currie scored his 15th goal of the year and Walker completed the hat trick at 4:00 and 4:30, respectively, into the third.
“It felt really good,” Walker said of his hat trick. “I didn’t think it was going to happen this year, but it worked out last game of the year. Worked hard to get that one and hopefully there’s a few more to come next year.”
Gladiators head coach Rick Emmett was pleased with how his team capped off the season and hopes it will be a springboard for better things to come in the 2014-2015 season.
“We wanted to finish the season with as many wins as possible going down the stretch,” Emmett said of the team’s motivation. “Wednesday we were a little disappointed with the result there. The challenge for tonight was we knew we had a hard, tired hockey club coming in here and we knew we had to take advantage of them and the guys did that tonight. We executed the game plant to a ‘T.’”