DULUTH - The Gwinnett Gladiators clinched a playoff berth for the fifth consecutive season when they beat Augusta on Sunday and Pensacola lost in a shootout.
Of course, eight of the nine teams in the ECHL South Division make the postseason this year. So the odds were pretty good. Nevertheless, this means the Gladiators have not missed the playoffs since relocating to Gwinnett from Mobile, Ala., prior to the 2003-04 season.
The Gladiators won two of their three games over the weekend, including a very solid 3-1 victory over rival Augusta at the Arena at Gwinnett Center on Sunday.
Lou Dickenson scored a pair of power-play goals to lead the Gladiators, who now have 71 points.
Pensacola, which actually handed Gwinnett its lone loss of the week, can't finish with any more points that 71 and the Gladiators own the tiebreaker - thus securing a playoff berth.
Texas was the league's first team to qualify for the postseason and South Carolina also clinched this weekend. South Carolina and Gwinnett are tied for second in the South Division standings, although the Stingrays have played two more games.
"We're getting better," head coach Jeff Pyle said. "We're not where we need to be yet. But with the addition of Joe (Grimaldi) on defense, he fills the hole that we need, adds depth.
"I'm harping on a lot of things I'm just tired of harping on and I've got to get a couple guys to smarten up. But they're either willing to help us or they won't be playing."
Forward Jeff Campbell set a new team record for most points in a game during Saturday's 6-2 road win over Mississippi.
Campbell scored three goals and assisted on the Gladiators' three others for a six-point night. The effort broke the old record of five points in a game, held by five players - including himself.
It was his first hat trick of the season and third of his career.
"The puck was just going our way for our line," Campbell said. "It's fun to have a night like that. It doesn't happen very often, so you enjoy it."
He also picked up an assist on Sunday and continues to lead the ECHL in scoring with 73 points. Campbell has 18 goals and 55 assists for Gwinnett in just 46 games. His 55 assists are also best in the league.
Quite a line
Brad Schell, Campbell and Dickenson have been playing on a line together since Dickenson came back from the American Hockey League nearly two weeks ago.
The Gladiators played six straight games on the road before finally returning to their home rink on Sunday - which gave the fans a chance to see how well that line meshes.
"Definitely, we've been clicking," Campbell said. "Dickie's got great speed and Scheller is a great play-maker and can finish. I like playing with two guys like that. So far, it's worked out well."
Over the last seven games, the trio has racked up a combined 37 points (15 goals and 22 assists).
Dickenson's two goals on Sunday extended his point streak to 16 games, a team high for the season.
Dickenson's streak dates back to Jan. 11 and includes 15 goals and 10 assists for 25 points. He is just three games shy of tying the Gladiators' all-time record for consecutive games with at least one point (19) held by Scott Mifsud.
Captain Mike Vigilante played for the first time in more than a month this weekend. He played significant minutes in all three of the Gladiators' games this weekend. He didn't pick up any points, but was a welcome addition to the lineup.
"I'm sure he played way more than he expected," Pyle said. "But he was phenomenal this week.
"Just bringing the leadership and the little things."
Vigilante sustained a concussion in a Dec. 13 game at Charlotte and missed the nine subsequent games. He returned for a game Jan. 5, but came out of the next game with concussion symptoms. Vigilante, who was the team's leading goal scorer at the time of his injury, missed the next 17 games before returning to action Friday in Pensacola.
"My head feels good," Vigilante said after Sunday's win.
He freely admitted to being tired.
Concussion symptoms often prevent the sufferer from doing any physical activity, so it's not easy to stay in game shape. Vigilante is notoriously fit, so his 75 percent is still pretty good. He said his timing was also a little off after missing so many games.