Photo: Amanda Hertel Gwinnett forward Ryan Ginand scores on South Carolina goalie Jeff Jakaitis last Friday in the Gladiators four-game sweep of the Stingrays.
The format for the Gwinnett Gladiators' conference semifinal series against Cincinnati is drawing the ire of the faithful.
Because the Arena at Gwinnett Center isn't available beyond this weekend, the Gladiators will have to play, if necessary, five straight road games in the best-of-seven series. It's a first, even in the sometimes head-shaking world of the ECHL.
A Facebook post linking to the ownership's diplomatic statement explaining the situation was flooded with negative comments about the arena's disregard for its only major tenant.
The team is obviously not happy about the situation, but there's little to be done. Gwinnett explored many options, including playing at a practice rink.
"Bottom line, there are extremely limited options in Atlanta for staging a professional ice hockey playoff game and ultimately, it came down to making a decision that we felt gave us the best chance to advance," president Steve Chapman said. "As a team, the consensus of opinion was that this was our best option."
The players have already turned the page in preparation for Game 1 today at home.
They were made aware of the situation as they were leaving South Carolina last Friday, having just swept the rival Stingrays in the first round.
"No one was really that bitter," forward Tyler Murovich said. "It's obviously a different set of circumstances, but you've got to take the positives out of it. We get to start at home and if we are there for more than two (games), we'll be settled, we won't have to get back on the bus. We can get comfortable.
"They're going to be at home with more distractions. We're just there to play hockey. So we could use it to our advantage."
The Gladiators are the lower seed in this series between division winners. Cincinnati finished with three more points and earned the No. 2 seed. The higher seed nearly always starts at home, so Gwinnett is getting a break in that regard.
"We had a couple days to get the steam out and I think we're just excited to start a new series," defenseman Corey Fienhage said. "Cincinnati is really going to be a challenge and we're looking forward to that."
While the Gladiators were practicing this week at home, Cincinnati was still playing against feisty No. 7 seeded Toledo. Game 6 went to overtime Tuesday night and the opportunistic Cyclones advanced. Toledo controlled play for much of the game and were leading 3-2 when the Cyclones tied it with five seconds left.
"They're a big strong team with skill," Murovich said. "If you make little mistakes, they will capitalize. Sometimes even if they're not playing well, they could get a good chance out of nowhere and capitalize because they have that high-end skill.
"(Tuesday) night they kind of were outplayed by Toledo and it seemed like for parts of the game, Toledo had the puck for the whole period. Then all of a sudden, Cincinnati would capitalize on a chance."
Gwinnett played the Cyclones twice this season, both times at home. The Gladiators lost 3-2 on Feb. 10 and won 5-3 on March 20.
Fienhage had one word to describe his recollections of playing against Cincinnati: Big.
Which is saying something since Fienhage is a physical force himself at 6-foot-3 and a heavily muscled 215 pounds.
"You don't see too often big guys with really good hands," Fienhage said. "They get the shot off so quick and they take the body in the zone. They make it a pain to get out.
"But I feel like if we can just shut down their offense and get into our offensive zone play with hard work down low below the goal line, get pucks to the net, we'll be fine."
It'll be up to Fienhage and the rest of the defensive corps to quickly get the puck into the hands of Gwinnett's fleet-footed forwards.
"They play a run-and-gun style game and we've got to be ready for it," Fienhage said. "If we can keep our D-zone in tact, then we can start getting into Glads hockey down in the offensive zone -- chipping pucks behind then, taking bodies, getting pucks to the net."
Game 2 is at 6:05 p.m. Sunday, a delayed start because the Champions Tour event at TPC Sugarloaf is wrapping up and using the arena parking lot.
The series then turns to Cincinnati for the duration with Game 3 on Wednesday.
"Obviously the plan is to win every game, but you take one at a time," Murovich said. "It's part of pro hockey. I was up in (AHL) Hamilton and I was staying in a hotel for two months. So you get used to life on the road. Sometimes it's good, it brings a team together.
"When you hear, 'five on the road,' it sounds a lot worse that it really is. It's minor league hockey so guys are used to being on the road. You've just got to look at the positives."
There's no record of a series having this format in the ECHL's 25-year history. At least one WCHL team, a league which later merged with the ECHL, played a whole seven-game series in one city. Tacoma played all its games in Idaho one year and lasted five games. Tacoma folded just days after that series ended. Fresno also played a five-game series in San Diego in 2000.
ECHL Eastern Conference Semifinals
No. 2 Cincinnati vs. No. 3 Gwinnett
Game 1: Friday at Gwinnett, 7:35 p.m.
Game 2: Sunday at Gwinnett, 6:05 p.m.
Game 3: Wednesday, at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.
Game 4: April 26 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.
Game 5: April 27 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. (if necessary)
Game 6: April 30 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. (if necessary)
Game 7: May 1 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. (if necessary)