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Gladiators on 6-1-1 run despite ever-changing roster

DULUTH - Jeff Pyle splurged and bought himself a shiny new dry erase board to hang behind his desk.

The Gwinnett Gladiators' head coach brought the old one over from the franchise's previous incarnation as the Mobile Mysticks.

"After 10 years, I figured it was time," Pyle joked.

The old board's final months of work were strenuous ones. Maybe it deserved a rest.

Pyle keeps his line combinations written up there and they've rarely been the same from week to week.

Between injuries and call-ups to the American Hockey League, the names on the board have changed a lot during the 2007-08 season.

And nearly two weeks ago, Pyle was so fed up with the way his team was playing, he literally wiped the slate clean.

Pyle was frustrated with what he called selfish and stupid play following a shootout loss to Columbia on Feb. 10. He erased all the names on the board and promised trades.

Pyle didn't make any deals before the team made its big swing north, playing four games in fives days. The Gladiators (31-14-5) were resilient after dropping the first game to Johnstown. They rallied in all three subsequent games and picked up three wins against Elmira, Trenton and Reading, the last two in overtime.

"Overall, it went pretty well," defenseman Jeff Mason said of the trip. "We had our moments where we didn't play so good, but definitely the comeback wins were key for us. They were big.

"We did what we had to do. I mean, that's a tough road trip. It's long and it's a lot of miles. To come out of that with six of eight points, you've got to be pretty happy."

The power play was once again key and Pyle was not unhappy with the results. He wasn't overly happy with some of the play though.

"We played good in phases," Pyle said. "But again, the power play came through and they dig deep to win. So you give them credit there, you just wish they would understand they could still win with a little less effort and maybe learn a little bit more.

"But we're the only team in the league with a winning record after being down after two periods."

Which probably says two things about this Gwinnett team - they've been getting themselves into trouble early in games and they have the ability to rescue themselves later.

"And we're not playing with everybody we need," Pyle said. "And I don't know if we ever will. To me, it shows the guys have capabilities that I'm not even sure they're sure of. I think this team is capable of doing much more than it thinks - if I can get them on the same page."

Pyle waited until after the road swing to make a trade. On Tuesday, he sent forward Stuart MacRae to Fresno in return for defenseman Joe Grimaldi. Both are first-year professionals.

"I'm not saying this kid is the answer, but it gives us depth and some flexibility, which we need," Pyle said. "Jimmy (Jackson) may be back after the weekend. I'm not sure."

Even if Pyle gets the veteran defenseman Jackson back, he's got a couple blueliners that can play forward in Jamie Milam and Chad Denny. He doesn't have forwards that can move back to defense.

"That's really why I had to do it," Pyle said. "I can't hope and wait and pray. I know Stuey is pissed at me - and he should be I guess. I'm sure he expected to get way more ice time and offensive stuff. And I'll take the blame for that. He didn't get it. He's a good kid and he helped us.

"But still it had to be done. That was who they wanted."

Pyle may also be adding veteran forward Mike Vigilante to the lineup this weekend. Vigilante has long been suffering from concussion symptoms. He made the trip north, but did not play.

With three games in 48 hours and the first two on the road this week, Vigilante might see some action.

The Gladiators, who are 6-1-1 in their last eight games, play today in Pensacola, Saturday in Mississippi and then at home Sunday against Augusta.

SideBar: GLADIATORS AT ICE PILOTS

When: Today, 8:05 p.m.

Where: Pensacola, Fla.

Next up: Gwinnett at Mississippi, Saturday, 8:05 p.m.; Augusta at Gwinnett, Sunday, 4:05 p.m.