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Re-energized Gladiators prepare for crucial stretch

Photo: Amanda Hertel Gwinnett Gladiators forward Tyler Murovich is mobbed by South Carolina players after goalie Philipp Grubauer (31) makes a save Saturday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. The Gladiators are 0-2-2-1 in their last five games, including regulation and shootout losses to the Stingrays last weekend. 

Photo: Amanda Hertel Gwinnett Gladiators forward Tyler Murovich is mobbed by South Carolina players after goalie Philipp Grubauer (31) makes a save Saturday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. The Gladiators are 0-2-2-1 in their last five games, including regulation and shootout losses to the Stingrays last weekend. 

DULUTH -- Short-handed and playing a compacted schedule, the Gwinnett Gladiators were forced to use their energy stores judiciously.

Consequently, the forecheck suffered.

With players back from injured reserve and an new addition, forward Igor Gongalsky, arriving from the AHL, returning to that aggressive style is the focus for the week -- and beyond.

"When we've been able to control the pace in games, we've been dictating on the forecheck," head coach John Wroblewski said. "That'll be our goal.

"Now we're getting healthy, getting guys back and adding a big guy that can skate is going to be one of the factors in getting off this skid."

The Gladiators have been picking up points here and there lately, but are without a win (0-2-2-1) in their last five games. Despite that, they remain near the top of the division and conference standings.

"I don't think anybody's pushing the panic button yet," said forward Colin Vock, who scored a goal late in the third period Sunday to force overtime help Gwinnett earn a point in a shootout loss to South Carolina. "Definitely we want two points every game, but we battle and we get stronger every game."

Gongalsky, a 225-pound Ukrainian winger, is a welcome addition. He was released from his PTO with Portland, where he also played the majority of last season, and will be available for today's home game against Florida.

Wroblewski traded Utah for his rights in early September and Gongalsky will be under contract with the Gladiators for as long as he remains here. A big reason Wroblewski was excited about getting Gongalsky is that he's got the right mentality for playing in Gwinnett.

"Igor fits right in with our identity," Wroblewski said. "He's an up-and-down winger. He's got a good set of hands and he knows how to play the north-south game. He's an extremely good fit."

Wroblewski intends to use the 25-year-old on the power play as well as at even strength.

"He'll be a net-front guy," Wroblewski said. "He's a big guy and a fairly accomplished scorer at the ECHL level."

Today starts a set of three games in as many days. The Gladiators will board a bus for South Carolina as soon as they finish playing Florida tonight at the Gwinnett Arena.

Wroblewski preaches a four-out-of-seven hockey philosophy and it's more than an overarching season-long concept at the moment.

"We have seven games remaining until the new year," Wroblewski said. "We've decided to live by the credo. I think it's going to be pivotal to the season. It's going to tell us what we can achieve.

"It doesn't seem like we're going to be getting a whole lot of help coming from above. So this is the group. We've got two quality opponents and this is going to be a very important set of games."

The seven games left this month are all against Florida or South Carolina. The Stingrays (14-9-0-1) lead the division and will play Gwinnett (10-8-5-3) five of those seven games. Florida (12-11-1-1) is just two points behind the Gladiators in the South.