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ECHL championship inspires friendly wager

LAWRENCEVILLE - Duluth Mayor Shirley Lasseter has but one recommendation for the mayor of Anchorage, Alaska, when it comes to the Kelly Cup face-off between her Gwinnett Gladiators and the Anchorage Aces: Start fishing.

Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich will have to cough up 50 pounds of Alaskan salmon if his team loses the coveted Kelly Cup. And if they win? Well, Lasseter must send the Northern rivals 50 pounds of Georgia peanuts. The ECHL championship series opener begins tonight in Anchorage at 11:15 p.m.

The wager between mayors of two vastly different cities came about when the "Bob & Mark Morning Show" with WKHL-FM in Anchorage, in cahoots with Begich, called Duluth's grand dame shortly after noon Tuesday.

"That rascal called me from Anchorage, Alaska, and he tends to think that his Alaskan Aces are going to beat our Gwinnett Gladiators. I'm not even worried about that," Lasseter declared.

In fact, the first lady of Duluth is already planning a cookout when the fresh catch is delivered. She plans to have her husband cook up the salmon, then she'll serve it up to triumphant Gladiators players at the Festival Center upon their return.

But Begich has plans of his own should he receive some homegrown Georgia goobers. The peanuts will be served at community picnic June 30 for Begich's April re-election inauguration. Begich said the peanuts will make a tasty complement to 50 pounds of chocolate-covered raisins he already won in a bet with the mayor of Fresno, Calif., when the Aces beat the Fresno Falcons in the National Conference finals on Monday night.

The Gladiators, for their part, had already clinched a spot in the ECHL finals last week when they topped the Toledo Storm by winning four out of five games in the American Conference finals. This is the team's third year playing in Gwinnett and its first chance to go all the way.

Devoted hockey fans from Duluth and Anchorage would probably have no reason to size each other up if not for the Kelly Cup. Traveling between the two locales for games should make for quite a contrast.

With more than 700,000 residents, Gwinnett County has a bigger population than the entire state of Alaska, although Duluth's population of 24,255 is dwarfed by Anchorage's 277,498. The average high temperature this time of year in that part of Alaska is 55 degrees. It's 20 degrees warmer in metro Atlanta.

So confident is Begich that his team will trounce the Gladiators that he hasn't even considered how he'll ship salmon across the 4,000-mile expanse from Anchorage to Duluth.

"I told (Mayor Lasseter) just remember to package those peanuts in one-pound bags because that's how we like 'em." Begich said. "We plan to win."

But not so fast, Lasseter said. She predicts the Gladiators will win the championship series in five games.

"We'll give them one game, that's it," Lasseter said. "I told him he needed to start fishing."