I was out at practice Monday morning and got there, unintentionally, in time to see the team photo taken. It wasn't a long process, but the guys didn't miss the chance to make fun of each other. Several appearance-based comments were made before it was over.
Getting down to business at practice, they spent most of the session working on special teams. Everyone got a chance on the power play and penalty kill. You could certainly tell who is used to logging minutes on both. And who isn't. But even those players who don't see time on either got the hang of it. Eventually. But not before they were razzed by their teammates.
Practice closed with one of the most entertaining drills you'll see - dubbed "Juice Boy" for the penalty faced by the loser. I've talked about it in some of my stories over the years, but just for the uninitiated, it's a shootout and the last man to score is Juice Boy. Not only must he fetch juice (read: whatever sports drink is in the giant cooler in the locker room) for the team that day, he has to don an ill-fitting ancient yellow helmet.
There's no way I can properly convey how pitiful this helmet is. It's way too small, the padding is shredded and there's a stripe of white tape down the middle with the names of its wearers listed for posterity.
"Juice Boy" is a ritual on the day before a game and the most recent Juice Boy gets to go first, hoping to shed the helmet (and stigma) as quickly as possible. Jeff Mason absolved himself on his first shot Monday and wasted no time dumping the offending helmet into center ice.
It's rarely the same guy earning the dubious honor and scoring a lot of points rarely seems to hold sway. It's gone to ECHL MVPs and defenseman that average a goal a season alike. Even head coach Jeff Pyle, a prolific point man in his playing days, has worn it. (Note: He hasn't played since to my knowledge.) It's a very democratic game. Monday, it was down to Dan Sullivan and recently returned forward Brandon Kaleniecki. Kal, who came back to the Gladiators after a season in Las Vegas, avoided the loss.
Much jeering ensued and Sullivan crammed the bucket on his head. As with most things, Sully was good-natured about it.
As Kal got off the ice, I offered him a "Welcome back." He said it was good to be back. I think most fans will agree. Kaleniecki is fast and has good hands. Just as important, he works hard all the time. After practice, he was in the back hallway on a stationary bike.
Pyle said he'll be using Kal in all situations and will be adjusting his lines to work in the Michigan native.
Also getting back into the Gwinnett swing Monday was forward Myles Stoesz. The Thrashers assigned their prospect from AHL Chicago to the Gladiators last week. Since Gwinnett, unusually, didn't have a game for a whole week, Stoesz and Kal didn't have to rush down. Both got here this weekend and were at practice Monday. You'll see them both play today against Charlotte at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Stoesz spent the last month living out of a hotel room in Chicago and so was excited about having a home-cooked meal Sunday night. Between Thrashers' training camp and his stint in Chicago, it had been about two months since he had use of a real kitchen. Stoeszer did it up right, making steak with sauteed onions and mushrooms. His fiance is visiting and he was very complimentary of her fresh red-wine vinegar salad dressing for the salad. So sounds like it was a well-rounded meal. Although, Stoesz said he had guacamole and chips for dessert. I don't know if that can really be considered dessert. Maybe just another course.
In any case, he was in a good mood Monday. That's not uncommon though. I always like talking to Stoeszer - and not just because he played for my hometown junior team in Spokane, Wash., for three years. But since Stoesz really enjoyed his time there, it is often a topic of conversation for us. Especially after the Chiefs won (and, OK - accidentally! - broke) the prestigious Memorial Cup last season.
I may have brought it up again Monday. Stoesz remains a fan favorite back in Spokane, primarily because he dropped the gloves so often. My sources (read: my dad, who still goes to games) tell me Stoesz' jersey is frequently seen being worn at the barn. You can read more about Stoesz in a feature I did for today's Daily Post, but something I didn't have room for was the 21-year-old talking about his popularity.
He said he was often more well-known than the top goal scorers (which incidentally included Gwinnett teammate Brad Schell for one season).
"I had a little bit of the rock-star status there," Stoesz said.
After today's game, the Gladiators hit the road for the first time with a pair of games Friday and Saturday in Mississippi. Which will give them a good chance for some team bonding, especially since Pyle isn't expecting any roster moves in the near future.