Photo: Amanda Hertel
Netminder Billy Sauer makes one of his 20 saves in the Gwinnett Gladiators’ 4-2 victory over the South Carolina Stingrays on Friday night.
DULUTH -- Signs over the door out to the ice and dominating the wall in the Gwinnett Gladiators' locker room preach the same thing.
In banner-sized garnet and gold, they read, "4 out of 7 hockey."
Head coach John Wroblewski's mantra is derived from what it takes to win a late-round playoff series.
"When you're in a best-of-seven series, all things being equal with another team, our club is going to do the big things that are necessary to win," Wroblewski said. "At the end of the day, there's going to be some type of differentiation between the two teams and we're the team that's going to persevere."
It's also meant to prepare his team for the long haul to the postseason.
"Another way to look at it is percentage hockey," veteran forward Andy Brandt said. "We play the percentages when it comes to dumping pucks in. We play the percentages if we're blocking more shots, if we're winning more faceoffs. It's just doing all the little things. If we're shooting pucks more than them, if we're clearing the pucks out, if we're hitting guys when we need to, we're playing the percentages.
"Do the smart things. Do the little things. That's how we take four out of seven."
The percentages show Gwinnett is playing just slightly above that mark.
The Gladiators (10-6-5-2) lead the Eastern Conference standings and have been steadily earning points through the first third of the season. They've been picking up all-important points on the road -- especially crucial since the Gladiators have played so few home games.
Following today's game in Greenville, the Gladiators will have played twice as many times on the road (16) as in the Arena at Gwinnett Center (8).
They are coming off a three-game trip to Florida where they got four of a possible six points -- twice rallying to force overtime against the Everblades. Gwinnett lost in extra time, but maintained its division lead in unfriendly environs. "When everybody chips in to the percentages and everybody plays the percentages, that's when we get points," Brandt said. "Twice we were down in Florida. We didn't have the start that we wanted. You could see we weren't doing all the little things right.
"But all of a sudden, when we got to regroup and everybody was on board doing the little things we needed to do to become a group and a team, we started coming back. That's how we scrambled out a couple points."
Wroblewski is extremely pleased with where the team is at right now.
"Even though we've played more games than most teams, we're still in the top spot and that's a huge positive," he said. "I like our chances any time we're in a 5-on-5 situation. I love the compete in our team, the resilience.
"I love how competitive we are. We're in the games. We're gaining experience for down the road right now."
He's also happy with the way the team has bought into four-out-of-seven hockey.
"I feel like 23 games into the season, our team identity is very true right now," Wroblewski said. "It is on the wall. It's something the guys believe in and something they go out and execute.
"I'm very happy with the progress right now and obviously looking forward to taking the next step."
The Gladiators, who have home games Saturday and Sunday against division rival South Carolina, have managed to carve out a cohesive identity despite the constant roster fluctuations.
Most recently, captain Paul Flache came back in time for the trip to Florida after several weeks on injured reserve, and goalie Jeff Jakaitis was returned from AHL Rochester on Tuesday. A key cog in the defensive corps, rookie Corey Fienhage, will likely remain with Rochester for the foreseeable future though.
"The guys in the room, especially the veterans, they've come in and they've bought in," Wroblewski said. "They've embraced the ideals we've put forth here. Guys like Andy Brandt and Will Colbert. Paul Flache, a guy we're getting back now. They've really spearheaded all that. They live it and they play it.
"Unless the guys in there want to do it, it's all talk."