0

Gladiators meet all regular season goals

DULUTH - The Gwinnett Gladiators have reached all the goals they set for the regular season.

No. 1 seed in the American Conference. Check.

First-round playoff bye. Check.

The 100-point benchmark. Check.

So what's left to play for in the last three games?

"I'd like to get to 50 wins," Gwinnett head coach Jeff Pyle said. "So two out of three would be good."

After a rollercoaster road trip - way up, way down and back up again - the Gladiators want to get into a better rhythm before the postseason starts.

On Thursday, Gwinnett (48-14-7, 103 points) scratched out a 1-0 win on the back of tremendous goaltending from Adam Berkhoel. A day later, Augusta trounced Berkhoel and the Gladiators 6-2. But Gwinnett came back on Saturday to sneak past South Carolina 4-3 and clinch first place in the conference.

"We just need to be better in our systems," Pyle said. "We've gotten sloppy. I know we're tired.

"But we're supposed to get (Jeff) Campbell back and (Adam) Courchaine will be here (today)."

Courchaine played for Pensacola before being recalled to American Hockey League Houston, which holds his contract, at the beginning of March.

Courchaine's arrival in Gwinnett was expected earlier, in mid-March, but he's been in and out of Houston's lineup the last couple of weeks. Courchaine, who had 49 points in 42 games with the Ice Pilots, will have to get used to the Gladiators' systems quickly - especially since Pyle anticipates the callup of a of couple forwards to Gwinnett's AHL affiliate in Chicago.

"I think he'll just be so happy to be playing and in a decent atmosphere (it won't matter that he has new systems to learn)," Pyle said.

The Gladiators, who set a new franchise record with 21 road wins this season, finish the regular season with three games at home - starting tonight against the division's No. 2 seed, Florida.

The Everblades also secured a first-round playoff bye on Saturday, earning a point in an overtime loss to Greenville.

They may be locked into their respective spots, but there's no love lost between Florida and Gwinnett, which owns a 6-2-2 record in this season's series. The Gladiators are 3-0-1 at home against the Everblades, but lost the last meeting at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in a shootout.

"It's still a bit of a rivalry," Pyle said. "I don't see it being a tough affair, but it'll be a good-skating game."

Probably most important to both teams is staying healthy and getting rest to those that need it.

Tying a record

Forward Guillaume Desbiens posted the only goal of the Gladiators' win over Augusta on Thursday night. With the tally, Desbiens tied the team record for most goals in a season, matching Kevin Doell's original mark of 33 set during Gwinnett's inaugural 2003-04 campaign.

Blanking

Thursday's 1-0 win was Berkhoel's first shutout of the season. He is the third Gwinnett goalie to blank a team this season, joining Tuomas Tarkki and Sean Fields.

Half a dozen

Scott Mifsud became the sixth Gladiator to record 20 goals this season. The rookie out of Vermont posted his 20th goal in the Gladiators' win at South Carolina. Mifsud joins Desbiens (33), Milan Gajic (24), Derek Nesbitt (26), Campbell (30) and Brad Schell (23) at 20 or more goals on the year.

Playoff date

Gwinnett earned a bye in the 2006 Kelly Cup playoffs and will open the South Division semifinals (second round) on April 15 at 7:35 p.m. Game 2 of the series is April 16 at 4:05 p.m. The remaining dates, as well as the Gladiators' opponent, in the best-of-five series have yet to be determined.

Sprung

Tonight is the Sonic Spring Break Game. Fans can get four selected premium level tickets and four Sonic Burger meals with tots for only $48. This offer is only available at the Arena at Gwinnett Center box office. Puck drop is 7:05 p.m.

Line it up

Defenseman Danny Eberly came off injured reserve this weekend, but fellow blueliners, Lane Manson and Rick Emmett, went on the IR.

Campbell, who has been on callup to Lowell of the American Hockey League, is expected back today.