DULUTH - Hat in hand, Brad Schell guided the Gwinnett Gladiators to their seventh straight win, a grinding 5-3 victory over Pensacola at home on Saturday night.
Schell scored three goals to rally the Gladiators in front of a crowded house with 10,376 strong at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. It was the 21-year-old's second professional hat trick and brought his point total to 14 since being reassigned from the American Hockey League six games ago.
Schell's three goals left the game tied at 3, and Cam Brown scored the winner with 40 seconds left in the second period. Brown's third tally of the season was nudged over the line when goalie Todd Ford didn't get all of Jeff Dwyer's initial shot. The captain added an empty-netter for the final margin.
Gwinnett tied a team record for consecutive wins and remained in control of the South Division, leading second-place Florida by eight points. The Gladiators reached the 30-win mark before getting to double figures in the loss column. And - with Schell in the starring role - did it before the second biggest home crowd of the season.
Schell scored two goals in the first period off a couple hard-nosed efforts from Jeff Campbell. But in between were three straight power-play goals by Pensacola (16-24-5), and Gwinnett trailed 3-2 following a high-octane opening 20 minutes.
Schell drew first blood during 4-on-4 play when Campbell fought through a check behind the Ice Pilots' net and made the centering feed. Schell, in the slot, tucked a puck under Ford at 6:15.
Then the worst power-play unit in the league, functioning at a mere 11 percent, lit the lamp on three consecutive man-advantages - the last of which came courtesy of a poor call by referee Nygel Pelletier.
Pelletier sent Scott Mifsud to the penalty box for highsticking, though it was a trip on Mifsud that caused his stick to fly up.
Tempers flared with Pensacola up 3-1, and Brown got into a rare fight with recently acquired Ice Pilots' agitator David Ambler. It was one of several altercations in an increasingly contentious game and seemed to get Gwinnett (30-9-5) going a bit.
Schell's second goal of the night brought the Gladiators within 3-2 less than two minutes later. Campbell drove up the middle, though two defenders, to make a nice dish over to Schell. Schell put it away prettily for his 18th goal of the season at 12:27.
His hat trick was completed on the power play late in a protracted second period. Delayed by a mind-numbing 13 penalties, the middle 20 minutes moved at a glacial pace. But Gwinnett capitalized on one of those infractions. The second-best power-play unit in the league was cycling well and found Schell near the top of the right faceoff circle. Schell pounded a slapshot past Ford at 16:19 to tie the game.