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Gladiators try to build on comeback win

DULUTH - The Gwinnett Gladiators are short-handed and head coach Jeff Pyle isn't expecting things to change much in the near future.

Injured forward Brad Schell and defenseman Ryan Van Buskirk could be ready to play today in time for the Gladiators' home game against Elmira. But that wasn't going to be determined until this morning. Veteran defenseman Chris Cava is day-to-day and Pyle doesn't think any of the three players called up to the American Hockey League last Thursday will be back soon.

The good news is Gwinnett is coming off a 3-2 road win over division rival Mississippi despite having a short bench. The Gladiators (11-9-4, 26 points) finished Sunday's game in Mississippi with 12 skaters, barely more than two full lines, after Cava was hurt and Myles Stoesz got ejected.

Gwinnett rallied from a two-goal deficit - the third time the Gladiators have done that this season - to tie the game in the second period and score the winner in the third.

"We were tired, but you could see they (the Sea Wolves) were dead in the third," Pyle said. "We were all over them."

After giving up two goals in the first six minutes, Gwinnett had its work cut out. Especially after having lost to Mississippi by identical 4-2 scores on Friday and Saturday.

Part of the problem all three nights was missed opportunities - although it's hard to imagine with the number of shots Gwinnett got. The Gladiators fired 51 shots on Riku Helenius at home Friday and then a season-high 62 at Jeremy Duchesne during Saturday's loss in Biloxi, Miss.

Sunday's game didn't start any better. Pyle said the Gladiators got a "grade-A" scoring chance right in front of the net on the first shift. No one converted and Mississippi came back on a rush the other way to score.

"We're battling through some character things," Pyle said. "I don't question how hard they're going to work, but we've got to be better in the systems and we've got to be more disciplined.

"But for being that short, missing four of our top guys (we did well). A lot of teams could have shut it down, but we came back."

Trailing 2-0, tough guy Dan Sullivan started the rally when he got a shot to squeeze through Helenius' legs at 4:34 of the second period. Bruce Graham set up that goal and then the tying tally a little less than 10 minutes later.

Working with a 5-on-3 power play, Graham got the puck from Jordan Fox and found Brandon Kaleniecki alone on the far post. Kaleniecki banged it home at 13:24 for his sixth goal of the season.

That set up Jeff Mason's game-winner three minutes into the third period. Mason slid across the blue line and fluttered the puck to the front of the net where it eluded Helenius. Kaleniecki had an assist on the goal as he rolled the puck back to Mason at the point and Gwinnett held off Mississippi for the duration.

"That was a big goal from Sully," Pyle said. "And a good job from Graham and Fox on Kal's goal to tie it.

"As hard as we worked and as short as we were, I was pretty impressed."

Now it'll be up to the team to carry some of that momentum forward.

Elmira begins and ends it's swing through the Southeast in Gwinnett with games here tonight and Sunday.

In between, the Jackals (11-10-3, 25 points) travel to Charlotte and South Carolina. Elmira is in fifth place in the North Division, one point behind Cincinnati and 12 behind leading Johnstown. The roster features two former Gladiators in forward Ben Geelan and defenseman Joe Grimaldi.

The Gladiators are in fourth place in the South Division with a chance to jump into a tie with Mississippi, which plays division-leading Florida in an unusual 9 a.m. game for school kids today in Biloxi.

SideBar: JACKALS AT GLADIATORS

When: Today, 7:05 p.m.

Where: Arena at Gwinnett Center, Duluth

Radio: 550-AM