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Gladiators focused on getting to net in home opener

DULUTH -- Tyler Murovich grinned when he thought back to last season's home opener, his first as a Gwinnett Gladiator.

"It was awesome," he said.

The Gladiators hammered division rival Greenville in Murovich's debut at the Arena at Gwinnett Center a year ago. The team is certainly aiming for another big game today when the Ontario Reign make a rare trip east.

"I'm sure the guys, especially the returning guys, will be excited to see the fans," Murovich said. "We're looking forward to it. We missed playing here all summer."

The Gladiators started the season on the road and dropped a tight 4-3 game to South Carolina. They outshot the Stingrays 38-24, but many of those came from the outside.

"It started out as your typical first regular season game where there were some mistakes and guys didn't necessarily appreciate the speed and tenacity of a regular-season game," Gwinnett head coach John Wroblewski said. "I thought both teams started to settle in, and then assuredly by the time the second period rolled around, we controlled the pace of the play.

"But we weren't very good around both nets. Ultimately, that's where South Carolina beat us, around the cage. They had four goals right around our goal mouth and all of ours were relatively from the perimeter."

The team focused on getting into the tough areas around the net this week during practice and were able to skate on their home ice for the first time Tuesday.

"Any time you get that many shots, you're going to get rebounds," Murovich said. "Pucks are going to hit skates. Especially with that team because South Carolina likes to have five guys in tight to the net. Pucks do hit off bodies and the rebounds were there. It's just a case of getting to the net.

"We have to get more traffic there."

Rather unusually, it was the only game of the week for Gwinnett before playing 3-in-3 this weekend and then almost immediately hitting the road for a trip north.

"Either way, win or lose, I would really have liked to have another game to be able to go right back at it," Wroblewski said. "Having this entire week off, hopefully the sting will still resonate. That's our job as coaches, that our guys are kept aware of why we came up on the short end.

"We did a lot of really nice things. We executed in a lot of what we talked about."

The roster remains unchanged this week with no new assignments from the AHL. But everyone who gets to play will want to manage their emotions for the first game on home ice.

"Hopefully it will help that we already played a game in South Carolina," Murovich said. "In South Carolina, they had a Super Fan there in the crowd and he was getting them pumped up. That was a loud building. Playing one game should help with some of the initial nerves at the start of the season.

"You're definitely going to be anxious and ready to play, but hopefully we can convert that into good energy."