DULUTH - Brad Schell scored the game-winning goal short-handed and pushed the Gwinnett Gladiators past a severely understaffed Pensacola 5-3 on Friday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Schell, the league's leading point-getter, had a breakaway from the red line and got his wrist shot to trickle under falling goaltender Ben Gray. The unassisted tally broke up a 3-all tie midway through the third period and brought many of the 4,057 on hand to their feet.
Schell said his intention, rolling up the middle of the ice, was to aim between Gray's feet.
"Five-hole, that's my go-to," the 22-year-old Thrashers' prospect said. "Actually, I saw him on (Chad Painchaud's) breakaway and he opens his legs up pretty good. So he opened 'em up for me and I just slipped it in."
Andy Contois added some insurance with his eighth goal of the season at 18:41. Schell assisted on the final tally, bringing his point total to four in the game and 45 on the season.
Gray and the Ice Pilots did an impressive job staying with the Gladiators despite not having enough skaters for three full lines and spending a great deal of the game killing penalties.
Pensacola (5-16-2) was short-handed in part due to some suspensions incurred this week and was missing interim head coach Joe Clark, called away on a family matter. Team president Greg Schuh stood the bench for the Ice Pilots, who lost their fourth straight.
"I think they're a better team than their record shows and they've made some trades recently," Schell said. "They work hard. I give them all the credit in the world, they came in here with 14 guys and they worked hard.
"We were just lucky enough to come out and start outworking them the last half of the game."
Gwinnett (14-7-4) used three power-play goals and Schell's individual effort to win for the fourth time in five games.
"They were 5-15 (coming in), they've got 14 guys, so naturally you're going to overlook them," Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle said. "As a coach, you hope it doesn't happen, but it always does.
"That was a huge goal by Scheller. I look at it like, it is what it is - it's a win. We're playing pretty good in phases. I'm not going to complain. It's tough to play a team like that. Everybody expects you to win and they expect you to win big."
Before Gwinnett's special teams got going, Pensacola had a 2-0 lead.
Gladiators' goalie Dan Turple slammed his stick violently to the ice as Pensacola gained the 2-0 lead at 11:36 of the first period.
The short-handed Ice Pilots scored first when Dan Sullivan was in the slot to convert on a pass from behind the net. Sullivan hammered a point-blank shot past Turple at 7:14 and Rob Rankin doubled Pensacola's advantage not long after.
"We had a bad first period," Schell said. "We came in (during intermission), we talked about it and we regrouped.
"We realized just because they have 14 guys, they were going to work hard. We figured we had to outwork them. I think we did that the last half of the game and that was the difference. Obviously our power play got us started."
The most penalized team in the league got into some trouble at the end of the first period, giving Gwinnett's ECHL-leading power play a two-man advantage.
Most of the time carried over to the second period and the Gladiators failed to convert on the first power play, but not the next three straight.
Scott Mifsud got Gwinnett on the board with a rebound slung into the back of the net 1:09 into the second.
Defenseman Jon Awe tied the game 1:09 later, unloading his patented blast from the middle of the ice and just inside the blue line. Schell assisted on both power-play goals.
The Gladiators took a 3-2 lead when Mike Wirll was called for hooking and the power play cashed in again. Awe let another shot from up top loose and Gray couldn't control the rebound.
It was actually Pensacola defenseman Jason Goulet that pushed the puck over the line once it got behind Gray. But Matt York, as the last Gwinnett player to touch the puck, got credit for his fourth goal of the season at 4:44.
Pensacola evened the score on Sullivan's second goal of the game at 6:42 of the third period.