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Gladiators Kowalski earns ECHL honor

DULUTH - Jeff Pyle knew he was getting a guy who could stop the puck and win games when he signed goaltender Craig Kowalski.

He didn't realize how much more Kowalski would bring to the Gwinnett Gladiators.

Kowalski's ability to handle the puck and his leadership in the locker room were happy surprises despite what Pyle had heard from Walt Kyle, Kowalski's college coach and a former teammate of Pyle's at Northern Michigan.

"He said, 'He'd be the first goalie I'd give the (captain's) 'C,'" Pyle said.

Pyle doesn't disagree with that statement.

On Wednesday, Kowalski was named the ECHL's goaltender of the week for his performance in a pair of games against his former team, the Florida Everblades.

Kowalski posted a 1.50 goal-against average and a .956 save percentage in the two Gwinnett wins. After the second game, a 4-2 victory, Pyle was critical of his team and said Kowalski's efforts were the only reason they won.

"The confidence he has, it rubs off on everybody," Pyle said. "K-wal has been a good breath of fresh air."

The Michigan native has won his last three starts and is off to his best start as a professional with a 10-3-1 record.

This is the second time Kowalski has been named the ECHL goalie of the week. Kowalski was honored with the distinction for the week of Dec. 18-24, 2006 while playing for the Everblades.

Drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2000, the 24-year-old played three seasons for Florida, accumulating a 54-25-10 record with five shutouts, a 2.72 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage.

Derek Nesbitt, the Gladiators' leading scorer this season, has played against Kowalski as a pro and in college.

"It's well-deserved," Nesbitt said of Wednesday's announcement. "What can you say? The numbers speak for themselves."

He succinctly summed up the difference in having Kowalski on the same side this season.

"It's a lot easier to score, that's for sure," Nesbitt quipped.

Note: Gwinnett captain Mike Vigilante was runner-up to Elmira's Bryan Rodney in the player of the week honors. Vigilante had three goals and two assists in two games last week.

SideBar: GLADIATORS AT CHECKERS

When: Today, 7:05 p.m.

Where: Charlotte, N.C.

Next up: Columbia at Gwinnett, Friday, 7:35 p.m.