DULUTH - The Gwinnett Gladiators left at midnight for today's pivotal game in Mississippi with even fewer players than they've had for most of the calendar year.
In addition to captain Jeff Mason's injury Sunday, forward Myles Stoesz was traded Monday by the Atlanta Thrashers as part of a package with Niclas Havelid.
The Thrashers acquired rookie defenseman Anssi Salmela from the New Jersey Devils for Havelid and Stoesz, who has played the whole of his two professional seasons for Gwinnett.
Head coach Jeff Pyle said the Gladiators would be going with 12 skaters unless one of their AHL affiliates could help out. Gwinnett has been going with 14 and, at most, 15 guys for quite a while because of injuries and call-ups. A full roster is 18 skaters and two goalies.
On Monday afternoon, Pyle was still searching for possible players he could bring in. The lower level Southern Professional League has a rule that players leaving after March 1 aren't allowed to come back.
"So we can't get any of those guys," Pyle said.
Pyle said he called Gwinnett's affiliates in AHL Chicago and NHL Atlanta to let them know he was down to 12 guys. Pyle also contacted AHL Peoria, which is not an affiliate but has former Gwinnett defenseman Jim Jackson, who hasn't played in the last five games.
Chicago also hasn't used defenseman Chad Denny and forward Tomas Pospisil, who were in Gwinnett last season, in some time. Denny hasn't played the last nine games and Pospisil even longer at 12 games.
Pyle didn't seem to think help would be forthcoming from those teams, however.
"I'm not feeling the warm fuzzies from anyone right now," he said.
The Gladiators travel to Biloxi, Miss., today for their final regular-season meeting with the Sea Wolves. Gwinnett is a point behind Mississippi in the ECHL South Division standings. But the Gladiators (24-24-6) have played two fewer games and own a better winning percentage, which will be the criteria for determining playoff spots since Augusta folded mid-season.
Coming off a disappointing 6-4 loss to South Carolina on Sunday, two points against the Sea Wolves are key. Gwinnett led the Stingrays 4-2 in the second period before giving up four straight goals to have a three-game unbeaten streak snapped.
"We were in a position to win, but we were too sloppy," Pyle said.
The Gladiators got down 2-1 and reeled off three straight goals to take the 4-2 lead. The last of those goals came from rookie defenseman Brennan Turner, who burst out of the penalty box and scored on a breakaway 1:16 into the second period.
"We had all the momentum then," Pyle said.
But South Carolina cut the gap to 4-3 a little over a minute after that and tied it 4-4 on the power play at 18:08 of the second.
Moments later, with 26 seconds left in the period, a goalie fight erupted.
It started with South Carolina being called offside. The Stingray player with the puck shot it at Turple after the whistle. Turple took exception to that, charging him and slamming him into the boards in the corner.
That prompted South Carolina goalie Jonathan Boutin to leave his crease and go after the towering 6-foot-6 Turple. Boutin didn't have his jersey tied down properly and Turple yanked it over his head and pounded him.
Once it was over, Boutin was ejected with a game misconduct for not having his jersey tied down, a fighting major and two minors for leaving the crease and instigating. Turple got a fighting major and a roughing minor, but remained in the game.
Jeremy Duchesne held Gwinnett scoreless on 13 shots while South Carolina scored twice more on Turple in the third.
Pyle blamed poor decisions and bad defense for the loss.
"We just do stupid things that kill you," he said. "We just kept shooting ourselves in the foot. We made too many mistakes to win that game."