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Defending champs hand Gladiators fourth straight loss

Gwinnett's Jonathan Narbonne (#15)  knocked into the boards by Reading's Ethan Cox (#28) early in the first period of Friday night's game at the Arena at Gwinnett. (Photo: Amanda Hertel)

Gwinnett's Jonathan Narbonne (#15) knocked into the boards by Reading's Ethan Cox (#28) early in the first period of Friday night's game at the Arena at Gwinnett. (Photo: Amanda Hertel)

DULUTH — Reading steamed past the Gwinnett Gladiators in the second period and walked away with a 4-2 win Friday.

The Gladiators, playing at home for the first time in weeks, were flat-footed and made matters more difficult with several egregious giveaways in their own zone.

The defending Kelly Cup champion Royals, who remain in town for Saturday’s game at the Arena at Gwinnett Center, handed the Gladiators their fourth straight loss.

There was further bad news for Gwinnett when goalie Scott Stajcer’s season came to an end over a chronic hip injury. He was the backup Friday, but will be replaced on the bench by journeyman Nick Niedert on Saturday. That leaves Mathieu Corbeil, who made a number of good saves against the Royals early on, as the true No. 1 for the season.

Corbeil defused a breakaway on one end — making a glove save on Josh Brittain — and the Gladiators rushed back the other way to grab a 1-0 lead. Maxime Legault’s own breakaway opportunity was turned aside, but he chased down the puck in the corner and flung it to the crease. Bobby Hughes crashed the net and jammed it under goalie Riley Gill at 11:57 of the first period.

Gwinnett (18-28-2-2) had several good odd-man chances to extend the lead and couldn’t cash in on any of them.

The Royals tied it on a tic-tac-toe passing play, tapped in by Brett Flemming on the backdoor, at 19:17 and carried that momentum into the second.

Reading (29-18-1-1) controlled the play and added two goals for a 3-1 lead. Former Gladiator Domenic Monardo scored at 7:36 and Brittain punched a rebound home on the power play at 17:17.

Brittain assisted on the Royals’ fourth goal, effectively putting the game out of reach at 11:20 of the third.

Gwinnett got within 4-2 on a goal by Casey Pierro-Zabotel at 16:17 of the third, but couldn’t dig out of the hole created in the second period.

Special jerseys delayed

The mesh replica arctic camouflage jerseys set to be featured as the Gladiators $5 Frenzy promotional item didn’t arrive in time for Saturday’s game. The jerseys, designed for this weekend’s “Puck Dynasty” event, were delayed due to manufacturing and shipping issues.

But fans can still get the limited-edition item, available in youth or adult XL, by purchasing an exchange voucher Saturday. Once the jerseys arrive, the vouchers can be redeemed at any future game this season or at the Gladiators front offices during business hours.

“We made the best of the situation,” said director of media and game operations Christina Johnson. “It is ideal? No. But unfortunately it was out of our control and we came up with the best possible solution to the issue.”

The players game-worn jerseys will still be auctioned off following Sunday’s 2 p.m.game.