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Gladiators' Zanoski hits ground running after trade from Dayton

The video is compelling. So is a teammate's succinct and partially unpublishable description.

But Tom Zanoski just smiles, with a little glimmer in his eye and an aw-shucks in his stance, when the incident comes up in an interview.

In his fourth game for the Gwinnett Gladiators, Zanoski had the fight of the season against David Rutherford on the road in Charlotte.

Zanoski already had made a big impact after joining the Gladiators via a trade with Dayton at the end of January. The physical and skilled forward was one of the only bright spots in his first game, a 3-2 loss to Charlotte at the Gwinnett Arena. Head coach Jeff Pyle praised him in the midst of a tirade about the team's performance that night.

Zanoski scored a goal in his second game, sparking a comeback that pushed the Gladiators beyond regulation against the league-leading Florida Everblades a day later.

All that after not playing for three months because of hamstring injuries.

Gladiators' gritty veteran forward Dan Sullivan has known Zanoski a long time. He wasn't surprised at how quickly the soon-to-be 25-year-old made an impact in Gwinnett or by the definitive bout with Rutherford.

Sullivan was captain of Zanoski's first major junior team, the Owen Sound Attack in the Ontario Hockey League, and has seen first-hand what Zanoski can do.

"I know what Tommy can bring to the table when he's playing his best hockey," Sullivan said. "It sucks that he's got to fight this injury because it's not what you want to see him go through, trying to get back.

"But coming out and playing the way he did ... he's a great kid and he brings a lot. He's such a genuine friend to a lot of people. But at the same time, I think pound-for-pound he's one of the toughest kids in the league."

Maybe because Zanoski's formative years were anything but easy.

He was born in Croatia and moved to Canada because war was tearing the country apart in the early-to-mid '90s.

He spoke no English and was coming from a situation of daily violence that few can even begin to imagine.

Zanoski has many childhood memories from Croatia, but the ones at the forefront are of the war.

"We'd go in the bomb shelters every night," Zanoski said. "That stuff sticks out because it was pretty, you know, intense."

His dad moved to the Toronto area and then brought the rest of the family when Zanoski was 9 and his older brother was 12.

Zanoski began to learn English and hockey at the same time.

"I signed up for hockey right away," he said. "I just kind of fell in love with the sport."

He wouldn't say it came naturally. "I just tried to learn as quickly as possible."

The same goes for his English classes.

"It was interesting," he said with a laugh.

Both his hockey and his English show no traces of a late start.

"He's an unbelievable guy to have around," Sullivan said. "Tommy's a great kid."

Zanoski wasn't even expecting to suit up when he arrived the night before Gwinnett's Jan. 30 game at home against Charlotte.

"When I flew in I had no idea I was playing," Zanoski said. "I got to the rink, saw I was in the lineup and said 'Wha-oh.'

"I was a little surprised, a little nervous, but definitely happy to be here."

After helping the Gladiators rally against Florida the next night, Zanoski made his first road trip to Mississippi. He was held without a point, but was even in the plus/minus category and had three shots.

"Zanoski has been a great addition," Pyle said. "He's a great kid, too."

Then came a defining game in Charlotte.

Zanoski started by overwhelming Rutherford in a tilt three seconds into the game and finished by scoring the game-winner on the power play with nine minutes left in regulation. The power-play, interestingly, came courtesy of a penalty to Rutherford.

Considering the timing and vehemence of the fight, one had to ask if the two players had any history of ill-will. It seems not.

"He had a few words in the warm-up for me," Zanoski said.

It was something along the lines of "you got traded for nothing." Zanoski came to Gwinnett in exchange for future considerations.

The video shows the two left wingers lining up for the opening faceoff. As soon as the puck drops, Rutherford chucks his stick and the gloves are off.

"It made sense, maybe set the tone a little bit," said Zanoski, who is powerfully built and listed at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds. "It just kind of happened. I don't fight too much, but it worked out well.

"If there's a need, I'll do it. I don't have a problem with it at all. But it felt like a good time. I thought I would. But you win some, you lose some. Hopefully you win more than you lose."

The last is said with a grin. He most certainly won that one.

Zanoski and Rutherford circled each other for a moment before grabbing hold. What followed was a flurry of rights by Zanoski, none glancing blows. He landed another four or five solid jabs before missing on a of couple swings. Then in rapid succession were five quick, powerful rights and four rabbit lefts. He finished him off with another round of damaging rights.

"Honestly I was out (with injuries) for a while so I haven't fought this year," said Zanoski, who just turned pro last season after a couple years in college and four in juniors. "Last year I only had like three or four fights. Then in school before that I got in a couple fights.

"But that was one of the better ones I would say."

If that isn't one of his most impressive fights, you'd like to have seen the others.

Zanoski laughs at that but Sullivan, a regular enforcer throughout his pro career, summed it up easily.

"He beat the (snot) out of Rutherford," Sullivan said.

DULUTH - The Gwinnett Gladiators will skate on pink ice and auction off a number of game-used items in support of the fight against women's cancer in the second annual "Pink in the Rink" weekend.

The Gladiators will be wearing special limited-edition purple and gray Gwinnett County Relay for Life jerseys as part of the two-game event.

The specialty jerseys are always the biggest part of the fundraising event, fetching amazing amounts at auction.

The Gladiators play South Carolina today and Charlotte on Sunday afternoon. Following that 4 p.m. game, the jerseys will be auctioned off. Last year's hot pink and black jerseys brought in a record $56,625 and the final total raised during last season's even was just under $90,000.

For the second straight year, the team will use pink sticks in warm-ups, and those will be used for an online auction beginning Monday.

The Gladiators will also be collecting donations for special "Pink in the Rink" T-shirts. They're asking for a minimum donation of $10.

SideBar:

What: Gladiators weekend to support fight against women's cancer

When: Today-Sunday

Where: Arena at Gwinnett Center, Duluth

Schedule:

· Gladiators vs. South Carolina, today, 7:05 p.m.

· Gladiators vs. Charlotte, Sunday, 4:05 p.m.