Challenges have again been issued.
Gwinnett Gladiators’ head coach Jeff Pyle is happy with his veteran leadership and several of the second-year players who are under contract with higher levels.
Now he wants a similar commitment from a couple of the youngest guys.
“We’re a little selfish at times,” Pyle said. “We have a couple players that don’t buy into the team.”
Pyle said forward Tim Miller, who has been a real boon to the team this season, will be in town for the home games this Saturday and Sunday before heading back to AHL Chicago.
But first for the rest of the team is a road trip to South Carolina on Friday.
“We’ve got to have the guys that are here step up,” Pyle said. “There are a couple of guys that are kind of hiding. It’s a big difference if a couple guys step up and be leaders. It hasn’t happened from the standpoint of our younger guys. Our older guys have done a great job. They’re committed.
“There’s some guys on the team that are definitely not committed to OUR organization.”
Pyle said he’s still looking to make some trades. He dealt rookie forward Dan Kissel, who was a minus-30, to Alaska on Tuesday, a day after signing former Boston College forward Kyle Kucharski. The 23-year-old was a free agent after being released by Trenton earlier this season.
“I wanted a guy that was reliable, that can just play defense,” Pyle said. “I’m not sure who we’re going to have back and when we’re going to get them back. Or if we’re going to get them back. So I wanted to make sure I had some depth.”
Kucharski, a college teammate of defenseman Tim Filangieri and part of the Eagles’ 2008 national championship team, will get a chance to jump right into the lineup. Forward John-Scott Dickson is out this week with a lower body injury.
“Again, defensively, I needed a guy that could just be solid,” Pyle said. “Especially the first game on the road.”
The Gladiators are coming off a pair of home losses to Toledo, but still clinging to the sixth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The margin is extremely narrow, however. Two points separate Gwinnett from ninth place and a second straight season without playoffs.
“I think following those games (against Toledo) everybody took a step back and re-evaluate what they were doing,” captain Sam Roberts said. “Ultimately, what it boils down to is we’ve all got to be a little more responsible.
“Through practice all this week there’s been kind of a fresh mindset. I think guys have had a lot more jump and have been working a lot harder. Hopefully that translates to the game.”
Penalties have been a problem in recent weeks and Roberts said that’s been addressed.
“It’s all discipline,” he said. “That doesn’t just refer to the penalties. It refers to playing within the systems that Jeff has in place for us.”
Pyle understands with seven players either called up to the AHL or hurt, he’s asking for a lot from what has always been a hard-working team.
“We don’t have all the horses, so we’ve got to play almost mistake-free hockey,” Pyle said. “And that wears a lot on the guys. As hard as they do work, in the end, we have to have a solid effort for 60 complete minutes — 58 ain’t gonna do it anymore.
“That’s pretty hard to do in any game. It’s a lot of pressure on the guys, but it’s also a challenge that you either want or you don’t.”