Daniel Spivak, who was born in Israel and plays for the national team, has been one of the Gwinnett Gladiators steadiest defenseman this season. (Photo: Amanda Hertel)
DULUTH — The Gwinnett Gladiators haven’t had a lot of success this season against one division rival in particular.
But on the back of two short-handed goals, the Gladiators beat Orlando in regulation for the first time Thursday night. It was the second of four straight meetings and Gwinnett has a chance to improve on that record again Saturday night.
The Solar Bears, who were riding a hot streak coming into Thursday’s game at the Arena at Gwinnett Center, and Gladiators face off at 7:05 p.m.
It’s Teddy Bear Toss Night, too, which usually means a large and vociferous crowd at the arena. Fans are encouraged to bring new and gently used stuffed toys to throw when Gwinnett scores it’s first goal. All toys go to children in need around the metro area.
The team knows there will be a lot of eyes watching and is prepared for a strong pushback from Orlando after the 3-1 win Thursday.
“That’s a good team over there,” said Gwinnett captain Joey Haddad, who scored twice Thursday. “I don’t know if they played their best game. I think they were a little shocked we came out and took it to them a bit. That’s what we had in mind so I’m really happy — as is everyone in the room — just that we could come out as a group. It was a tough (loss) down in Orlando (4-3 on Jan. 23) and we had something to prove.”
The Gladiators had only beaten Orlando twice before, both times in a shootout, and lost five times.
But Gwinnett head coach Rick Emmett has continued to make roster changes and Thursday’s lineup included two new defensemen — Art Bidlevskii and Eric Springer — acquired from Ontario.
Recently assigned goalie Mathieu Corbeil also made a big difference, turning aside 31 of the 32 shots he faced.
“We managed the game better,” Emmett said of the win. “We were making them work for the puck in the offensive zone instead of getting involved in their game, which is quick hit, run and gun. That’s not our game. We certainly have a skill level, but at the same time, we’d like to slow things down at times and be a bit more predictable with our game.”