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Atlanta Gladiators

Somoza’s OT goal sinks Atlanta on Blueland Night

Somoza’s OT goal sinks Atlanta on Blueland Night

DULUTH, Ga. –  Since April 10, 2011, chants of “Let’s Go, Thrashers” have largely fallen silent, as well as many other things associated with the Atlanta Thrashers. For fans of the team during that period of time, the Atlanta Thrashers represented something of the past ever since the team’s move to Winnipeg.

But for a night, Blueland was back in a significant way as the Atlanta Gladiators turned Gas South Arena into a raucous and rowdy family reunion, the game against Greenville being branded Believe In Blueland Night.

And although the Swamp Rabbits would ultimately steal the show in the end with Ethan Somoza’s overtime game-winner to win 5-4, the story of the game was off the ice among the crowd of more than 8,600 fans.

“It was great just to look around and not see too many empty seats. It was fun. We don’t see that too often,” Atlanta forward Eric Neiley said. “It was a blast, it was loud. It was unfortunate not to get a win, but it was great.”

Atlanta wore jerseys that, other than the shoulder patches, had the exact look of one of the jerseys worn by the Thrashers during their existence. But it went much more than that, as the team was referred to all game long as not the Gladiators, but the Thrashers, with graphics and ribbon in the arena. And elements of games from Philips Arena were also present, from familiar video montages of scenes followed by video board appearances by a fan nicknamed “Rabid Fan” as well as a fan once again decked out in Braveheart-like garb following a video clip from the movie of the same name. Even “The Nasty Nest,” the Thrashers’ group of diehard fans, were singled as one of the special groups in attendance.

Toss in the return of the team’s mascot Thrash, in-arena announcers from the Thrashers’ time in Atlanta, music from the Thrashers organist piped in, and, of course, a crowd littered with Thrashers jerseys. It felt like a hockey family reunion, with off-and-on chants of “Let’s Go Thrashers” filling the arena.

As for on the ice, Atlanta would rally to tie the score twice over the final two periods with a pair of power-play goals by Neiley. His pair of tallies moved him into second all-time on the team’s list of most goals in franchise history, and he has now scored nine goals in his past six games. It also marked the fifth game in a row in which the team known as the Thrashers on Friday had scored at least one power-play goal.

Atlanta took control early, bringing the crowd peppered with Thrashers jerseys to its feet early when Sang Hoon Shin blasted the puck past Ryan Bednard just 4:30 into the game with an assist coming from Gabe Guertler. After the Swamp Rabbits evened things 14:28 into the opening stanza, with Ayden MacDonald beating Atlanta goalie Tyler Parks to tie things at 1-1, Atlanta answered. Getting a feed from Liam Kirk, Reece Vitelli carried the puck along the left into the Greenville zone, and he crossed it over to Derek Topatigh, who beat Bednard on the glove side for a 2-1 lead with 43 seconds to go in the first.   

A pair of defensive lapses moved Greenville in front in the second, starting just 1:02 into the period when Parks couldn’t quite track down the puck just outside the crease, and Justin Hamonic was right there to knock it in to knot the score at 2-2. Frank Hora would then move the Swamp Rabbits out front when he corralled a puck in the Atlanta zone, beating multiple Thrashers to it and fired it by Parks at 11:30 to make it a 3-2 Greenville lead.  

“I thought we started pretty well and were pretty detailed and got the lead,” Atlanta head coach Jeff Pyle said. “Our goals against are sloppy. We’re not defending hard enough, and that’s kind of where we get ourselves in trouble. We play a game we can’t win at, sometimes. If you’re going to play at a high risk, you’ve got to be able to defend harder, and we’re just not committed to it yet.”

But Atlanta bounced back, notching another goal late in the second period. And it came via special teams. Seconds into a hooking penalty against Greenville’s Anthony Beauchamp, the Thrashers needed just seconds to equalize things. Coming off an initial shot from the point by Topatigh, it’d be Neiley adding to his season total by getting the puck by Bednard, tying it 3-3 18:33 into the second, knotting things going to the second intermission.  

Carter Souch needed just 1:47 to get the Swamp Rabbits in front early in the third, putting Atlanta on its heels. After not being quite able to get the puck by Bednard, Atlanta cashed in after a high-sticking penalty to Greenville’s Joe Gatenby, needing less than a minute to tie the game on Neiley’s second goal with assists on the play from Mike Pelech and Cody Sylvester

“That’s the loudest I’ve heard this building in a long time,” Neiley said. “We knew if we stuck to it, they were behind us.”

Sylvester had two assists and was one of three Thrashers with a two-point night, joined by Neiley and Derek Topatigh, who also had an assist.

What’s next?

Atlanta will look to snap a two-game losing streak on Sunday when it hosts Savannah at 3 pm.

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    Brad Harrison covers the Macon Mayhem for Field Pass Hockey. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHMayhem.

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