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Gladiators fall in physical battle

Gwinnett Gladiator Casey Pierro-Zabotel (17) takes a shot on goal as he is checked by Reading’s Marvin Degon (4) with fellow Royal Mike Banwell (5) looking on in a very heated game in front of 10,880 fans Saturday at the Arena at Gwinnett. (Photo: Amanda Hertel)

Gwinnett Gladiator Casey Pierro-Zabotel (17) takes a shot on goal as he is checked by Reading’s Marvin Degon (4) with fellow Royal Mike Banwell (5) looking on in a very heated game in front of 10,880 fans Saturday at the Arena at Gwinnett. (Photo: Amanda Hertel)

DULUTH — For the second time in as many nights, the Reading Royals doubled up the Gwinnett Gladiators, this time squeaking out a 2-1 victory.

The game was dictated by physical play and a plethora of resulting penalties as the teams combined for 85 penalty minutes over the course of the 60-minute contest.

Before the march to the penalty box began, the Gladiators opened the scoring at 3:27 when defenseman Rob Kwiet ripped a one-timer pass from Jonathan Narbonne at the top of the right circle on the power play beating a sprawling Reading goalie Brandon Anderson.

For Kwiet, the goal was his sixth of the season and first in 10 games.

“I thought they were going to get the clear, but our forwards did a good job of keeping it in,” Kwiet said. “They got it up top and Narbonne gave me a nice pass and I put it on net and it went in.”

From there chaos ensued, or the hockey equivalent of it, as both squads’ goalies were run into by the opposition within five minutes of Kwiet’s goal.

The goalie abuse began when Gwinnett starter Mathieu Corbeil was run into by Reading forward Jesse Todd.

Todd was penalized for goaltender interference, but not a minute later, Gladiators forward Matthew Clune returned the favor to Anderson as he and Royals defenseman Brett Fleming slid into the Reading crease.

“Obviously, you don’t try to run the other team’s goalie,” Kwiet said. “It just kind of happens. After our goalie was taken out, I think that (Matthew Clune) didn’t really try to get out of the way, or as much as he could have, but it’s all a part of the game and everybody knows that.”

Despite the respective goalie collisions, the biggest of blows to the crease came with just over eight and a half minutes remaining, as Corbiel had to leave the game after being shaken up for the second time making a split save at the right doorstep. The Montreal native had to leave with an apparent hamstring injury, leaving recently added emergency backup goaltender Nick Niedert to enter in relief.

Niedert, the second emergency backup Gwinnett has had to use this season, finished off the final 48:33 physically unscathed and provided solid relief for a team on its third goaltender in two nights.

“He made some big saves early and gained our confidence very early in the game and that’s what he needed to do,” Kwiet said.

Aside from the 25 minutes of penalties, there was little action on the scoreboard as Gwinnett was able to kill off all three of the Royals power play opportunities and take a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.

As though the first period wasn’t enough, the physical play picked up as 54 more minutes of penalties were handed out in the second stanza.

Similar to the first, the lone goal of the second came early in the period as Reading’s Brett Fleming took a Gwinnett turnover off the right half boards and ripped one over Niedert’s left shoulder to tie it 1-1 3:09 into the second period.

The physical play was subdued in the final period as the teams appeared to settle down after the first 40 minutes and 79 penalty minutes.

Reading got the deciding tally 8:37 into the final stanza as Michael Cajkovsky’s high wrister from the left point found its way over Niedert’s left shoulder.

“(Niedert) stuck with it through the full 60 minutes and congratulations to him,” Kwiet said. “He played well and unfortunately we couldn’t get the win for him, but hopefully tomorrow.”

Gwinnett returns to action today as they finish out the home weekend against division rival, the South Carolina Stingrays at 2 p.m.