Photo: Amanda Hertel Gwinnett Gladiators Joey Haddad scored both the game-tying and game-winning goals in Gwinnett's 3-2 Game 2 victory over the South Carolina Stingrays in Charleston last season.
DULUTH -- Joey Haddad and the Gwinnett Gladiators agreed to terms before the NHL lockout became final.
Haddad, who has split time between the ECHL and AHL in his first three pro seasons, knew jobs were going to be at a premium if the NHL didn't start on time. He knew if he was going to be in the ECHL, he wanted to be in Gwinnett.
"Everybody was in the same boat, be it players or fans, and didn't look good for the lockout," Haddad said. "With no NHL, guys would be trickling down. I didn't wait too long to send my contract back."
The Gladiators made the signing of the 6-foot-2, 200-pound forward official Tuesday, but the deal was done in principle earlier this summer.
"I think I pretty much made my decision late last year," Haddad said. "I had a great relationship with Coach (John) Wroblewski and we had great success as a team. I got an idea of who else was thinking of coming back and fortunately a lot of the guys had the same mindset as I did."
Gwinnett was one of the best teams in the ECHL throughout the regular season and Haddad was a significant contributor. He had 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) in 43 regular-season games with the Gladiators, while also spending time with AHL Bridgeport and Hamilton.
"Of course you want to move up to the highest level," Haddad said. "I was hoping to get an AHL contract or training camp offer, but unfortunately, the (NHL) is locked out."
In a way, it has allowed Haddad to keep his focus.
"On the positive side, my path is pretty clear," he said. "If there was an NHL season, I might be at AHL camps or tryouts, which would be a lot more to deal with. Right now, I've got my plan -- go to Gwinnett, have a great camp and get ready for the season."
Haddad was huge for the Gladiators down the stretch and in their first-round playoff series against South Carolina. The power forward came back to Gwinnett from AHL Hamilton on March 20 and helped the team secure the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
"I could have finished the season (in Hamilton), but it was a big deal for me to come back and fight with the team," Haddad said. "It was my first year there and I was excited. I was ready to go for a long playoff run."
Despite being the higher seed, Gwinnett began the best-of-five series in South Carolina. The Gladiators split a pair of games at the North Charleston Coliseum, thanks in large part to Haddad.
The Sydney, Nova Scotia, native scored the game-tying and game-winning goals in Game 2 to send the series back to Gwinnett tied. Trailing 2-1 in the third, Andy Brandt took a shot that deflected through traffic to the near post where Haddad was waiting. He deflected the puck past Stingrays' goaltender Daren Machesney to tie the game at 11:18.
Then Haddad beat Machesney again with just 1:50 left in regulation, sparking a wild celebration and carrying the Gladiators to a 3-2 victory.
Haddad skillfully redirected a point shot from Brandt out of mid-air right between the goalie's legs.
Coming back to Gwinnett for the next three games, the team was in good position.
But what followed were a pair of heartbreaking overtime losses. The first was in quadruple overtime, the second longest game in ECHL history, and the clincher was in double overtime.
"Those were two humongous games," Haddad said. "It was a lot of hockey. It was two-plus games in that one night alone. Guys were getting IVs in the locker room. But it was definitely a great experience."
Talking with friends and family after he got back home helped Haddad work through the emotions of such a tough end to the season.
"You get some of the frustration and anger out, and you get some closure talking about it," he said. "Win or lose, you take that experience with you and it's good."
Haddad is enjoying the tail end of a busy summer that's included time with family, golfing and making the most of Nova Scotia's outdoor life. There's just a few weeks left until players report for training camp and he's in better condition than ever before thanks to a training program set up by long-time NHLer Gary Roberts.
"The program he made for me is broken into three phases," Haddad said. "I train there (at Robert's facility in Ontario), learn the regime and then come home and work out for the rest of the month. Then I go back up and learn the next part. It's probably the most fit I've been. I'm only 23 and I'm still growing into my body. But I feel really good. I'm ready to get going again."