After sweep, Gwinnett just waiting
Gladiators prepare for game despite not knowing who or when they'll play

DULUTH - The Gwinnett Gladiators have a traditional end to practice the day before a game.

It's called "Juice Boy" and it's pretty simple. The players take penalty shots on the goalies. Make it and you're done shooting. Last man left is juice boy. He must fetch post-practice refreshments for the rest of the team and wear an ill-fitting, banana yellow helmet.

The Gladiators didn't know Wednesday if they would be playing today or not. They were still waiting on the outcome of Wednesday night's Game 5 between South Carolina and Augusta. South Carolina rallied from a 2-0 series deficit with a pair of overtime wins to force the decisive Game 5.

A win by Augusta meant the Gladiators would play Columbia tonight at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. A South Carolina victory would have the Gladiators hitting the road for a series opener in Charleston, S.C., on Friday.

So Gwinnett prepared, during and after practice, like they would play today. Including a round of juice boy.

"I don't think we can really worry about who we have to play at this time of year," veteran forward Bryson Busniuk said. "We've played every team enough times that we've basically just got to stay within our systems - like we did the last three games against Charlotte."

The Gladiators are coming off a sweep of Charlotte in the first round of the ECHL Kelly Cup playoffs. They won Games 1 and 2 at home before closing out the Checkers with a gritty 2-1 victory on Saturday in Charlotte.

Head coach Jeff Pyle gave his team two days off to enjoy the win and then they got back to work on Tuesday.

It gave the players who needed it time to rest up, but the break between series isn't so long that the momentum is lost.

"A couple days off is always a good thing after a series," said forward and last year's ECHL MVP Brad Schell.

"I mean, it's playoffs. If you come to the playoffs and you don't have any intensity, then I think you shouldn't be here. Once the game gets going, whether it's Columbia or South Carolina, I think it'll be intense either way."

Busniuk spent the majority of last season in Columbia, but also played six games for South Carolina. Other than the smaller size of Columbia's rink, he didn't see any major differences between the two opponents.

"Whether it be Columbia or South Carolina, they're two solid teams with veteran guys back from the AHL," Busniuk said. "So they're looking stronger than they were at the end of the year.

"Either series is going to be a battle. They're both skilled. They both have two goalies that stop the puck and keep them in games. So, no, I don't really think it matters who we're playing. We've got to stay within what we can do."

Gwinnett had two good practices this week, keeping the energy high and preparing for the start of the South Division semifinals - regardless of opponent.

"Practice has been up-tempo," Busniuk said. "It's a good atmosphere. It's a fun time of year and everyone is pretty excited to play. Getting on the ice doesn't seem like a chore at all."

Indeed, the mood was light as practice concluded on Wednesday. Players were planning on following their usual day-before-a-game routine - with one exception.

"We'll obviously be watching the internet to see whether we come here ready to play or practice (today)," Schell said.

SideBar: ECHL Playoffs

With South Carolina's Game 5 win over Augusta on Wednesday night, the Stingrays earned a second-round matchup with the Gwinnett Gladiators in the ECHL Kelly Cup playoffs.

Here's the schedule for the best-of-five series:

No. 2 seed South Carolina vs. No. 3 seed Gwinnett

Game 1: Friday at South Carolina, 7:05 p.m.

Game 2: Saturday at South Carolina, 7:05 p.m.

Game 3: Monday at Gwinnett, 7:05 p.m.

Game 4: Tuesday at Gwinnett, 7:05 p.m.*

Game 5: Wednesday at South Carolina, 7:05 p.m.*

*if necessary