DULUTH — The Gwinnett Gladiators had one short-handed goal all season.
They scored two in Thursday’s game against Orlando and used it to skate to a 3-1 win.
Captain Joey Haddad had one of those and his first two-goal game of the year to lead the charge. Haddad could have taken a long shot at the hat trick with Orlando’s net empty in the dying seconds. But he opted to make the unselfish play and just hold to kill the clock as the Gladiators snapped a three-game winless streak before the faithful few at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
“We were skating and that’s why we were getting the loose pucks on the penalty kill,” Haddad said. “You just see the breakaway, but the reason we’re getting our chances is because all together, 18 guys were making an effort everywhere on the ice.
“It all adds up to a few breakaways, a couple short-handed goals. All good things to build on. All momentum things.”
Haddad gave the Gladiators 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the first period. And came close to a natural hat trick as Gwinnett began to find its stride following an anemic start.
After a week off and several roster changes, the early pace was sluggish.
But Haddad converted on a short-handed breakaway — the second for Gwinnett during the same penalty — to get things going. The power forward sauntered in alone on goalie Christopher Gibson and calmly roofed a backhander under the crossbar at 9:14.
Orlando answered 37 seconds later, just after the power play expired, on a tying goal from Kory Nagy.
Haddad didn’t waste too much time restoring the lead. Jonathan Narbonne tapped a pass to his defensive parter, Rob Kwiet, near the point. Kwiet lofted a shot toward the net and Haddad deflected it past Gibson at 11:30.
Haddad nearly got another the same way, but this time the puck went off the outside of the post and the Gladiators remained just one goal ahead.
“As an 18-man unit we just wanted to go out, give an honest effort, play the way we’ve been practicing all week,” Haddad said. “I think we accomplished that in the first. That led to a good second and a good third.”
The Solar Bears made a big push in the second, going from five to 18 shots on goal, yet it was Gwinnett extending its lead on another short-handed goal.
Moments after Brenden Walker was denied on his second breakaway of the game during a penalty kill, the Gladiators rushed in again 2-on-1. Dirk Southern carried the puck in and chose to shoot. He ripped it into the back of the net at 13:49 for a 3-1 Gwinnett lead.
“We had our moments where we let up a little bit,” Haddad said. “But we can’t hope to win 60 minutes of a game, we just want to have 60 minutes of effort. I think as a team tonight we had probably our closest 60-minute effort game of the year.”
Recently acquired netminder Mathieu Corbeil was rock solid through a busy second period and helped kill off a five-minute major penalty in the third period to hold off Orlando.
“That guy is a 6-foot-6 monster,” Haddad said. “I don’t even score on him in practice. He’s a big guy and even that goal they scored tonight, I think it was thrown about five feet wide and the guy made an unbelievable tip. So he had an awesome game tonight.”