DULUTH, Ga. - Despite a four-goal comeback and a goal in the last minute to force an extra period, the South Carolina Stingrays (25-18-3-0) came up short on Thursday morning at the Infinite Energy Center, falling to the Atlanta Gladiators (17-19-7-1) by a final score of 6-5 in overtime.
Grant Besse led the way for South Carolina with two goals and an assist, helping lead a comeback late in the game. The Stingrays had four other skaters with multi-point efforts including forwards Tim Harrison and Patrick Gaul who each had a goal and an assist, as well as Jordan Samuels-Thomas and Matt Pohlkamp, who both posted two helpers.
The Glads staked themselves to a two-goal lead in the first, scoring twice in a four-minute span with goals from Avery Peterson at 10:42 and Brett McKenzie at 13:29. Atlanta outshot the Stingrays 17-10 in the opening 20 minutes and had a 2-0 advantage at the first intermission.
Atlanta then increased their lead to 4-0 in the middle period, getting tallies from Justin MacDonald at 5:06 as well as Olivier Galipeau at 12:36 of the second.
SC was down, but not out. Besse gave his team some life in the final minute of the second, scoring his first of the game at 19:27 to get the Rays on the board and cut the Gladiators’ lead to 4-1. The second-year forward beat Atlanta goaltender Sean Bonar with a shot up high off the bar and into the net and had assists from Pohlkamp and Kevin McKernan on the play.
The Rays kept their positive momentum going at the start of the third when Patrick Gaul beat Bonar for his seventh tally of the year just 12 seconds into the frame. After winning the face-off, defender Vinny Muto found Harrison in neutral ice, who then dropped the puck off for Gaul on the right wing. The Pittsburgh, Pa. native moved right to the net and used another shot up high to make the score 4-2.
Later in the third, Besse got his second of the game when he found himself open in front of the Atlanta net. His initial shot hit the right post but bounced into the cage off a Gladiators’ skater to bring South Carolina within one goal at 4-3, 9:54 into the third. Samuels-Thomas, who made the pass from the corner to hit Besse in front, as well as Pohlkamp, recorded assists on the goal.
Less than two minutes later, Harrison tied things up with his sixth strike of the year at 11:45 from Gaul and forward Josh Gratton. The winger found open space down the left side of the Atlanta zone and fired a shot to the top right corner of the net to even things up at 4-4.
Immediately after the 4-goal comeback was complete, the Gladiators re-took the lead 5-4 on a goal by Derek Nesbit at 12:24, 39 seconds after Harrison’s equalizer.
The Stingrays continued to try to work themselves back into the game, pulling goaltender Angus Redmond out of the net for an extra attacker in the final minute for a last-chance effort. With just 25.5 seconds remaining, a shot by defenseman Tim Davison found its way to the cage and past Bonar, tying the game at 5-5 and forcing overtime. The Rays’ fifth strike of the game was assisted by Besse and Samuels-Thomas.
Both teams had chances to win the contest in the first two minutes of overtime but were held off the board by the opposing goaltender. McKenzie found the winner for Atlanta at 2:39 of the extra session, helping the Glads pick up the extra point in the game with his second tally of the contest.
Atlanta outshot South Carolina in the game by a 45-30 margin, while Bonar earned the victory with 25 saves for the Gladiators. The Stingrays did not get any power play opportunities in the game, but took three minor infractions in the first period, allowing one power play goal to Atlanta in the game.
Redmond finished the contest with 19 saves after replacing starting goaltender Parker Milner five minutes into the second period. Milner, who allowed the first three goals in the game, had 20 total saves before SC made the change in net.