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Gladiators retool roster in wake of NHL lockout end

Photo: Amanda Hertel    Gwinnett Gladiators forward John Scrymgeour (24) scores on Trenton goalie Scott Wedgewood on Dec. 9. Scrymgeour and Joey Haddad were activated off injured reserve in time for Saturday's home game against Kalamazoo.

Photo: Amanda Hertel Gwinnett Gladiators forward John Scrymgeour (24) scores on Trenton goalie Scott Wedgewood on Dec. 9. Scrymgeour and Joey Haddad were activated off injured reserve in time for Saturday's home game against Kalamazoo.

The Gwinnett Gladiators were able to activate forwards Joey Haddad and John Scrymgeour from injured reserve just in time.

With the NHL sorting out its protracted lockout, the Gladiators lost several players to AHL callups this week, including most recently Evan Bloodoff, Russ Sinkewich and Scott Arnold, all to Portland.

Gwinnett finished a stretch of seven games in 11 days last Saturday and was already down to 14 skaters. Today, they begin a run of seven games in 10 days with the same number, having signed a couple of players in addition to getting Haddad and Scrymgeour back.

But it's possible another player may be going up even before the Gladiators play Kalamazoo tonight at home.

"It's a great problem to have to deal with," Gwinnett head coach John Wroblewski said. "We have NHL hockey back and that's the most important thing right now.

"We'll continue to find ways to get the most out of our players. We have no control over player personnel, so that's just the challenge we're going to have to accept and thrive on going forward."

The Gladiators signed defenseman Tristin Llewellyn midweek. A product of the University of Michigan, Llewellyn has been playing for Rapid City in the CHL this season. They also are adding Yuri Bouharevich, who was in training camp with Gwinnett, and likely calling up local player Drew Baker from SPHL Augusta.

"There's a lot of young talent on this team that should be able to take this responsibility on," Wroblewski said. "You look at guys we are going to be leaning on, like Rylan Galiardi. We've been leaning on (Casey Pierro-Zabotel) a lot and will until his call comes.

"It's time for guys like Cody Carlson and Justin Weller and Corey Fienhage to really be staples and stalwarts on our blue line."

Although this particular set of circumstances is unusual with the NHL starting halfway through the season, the Gladiators, and all ECHL teams, are used to greatly fluctuating rosters.

"For us, I think, it's just business as usual," captain Andy Brandt said. "That's the hard part about playing and coaching in the ECHL, at times you're going to be short-handed. We've been playing short-handed here for the last couple weeks.

"I think you acknowledge it and you have guys step up. Guys are put in roles that maybe they're not normally put in. With players getting called up, it's an opportunity for guys that maybe don't get to play as much or play in certain roles. For us, that's how we look at it -- hopefully we have guys that can step up and fulfill roles that they're not in right now."

Several rookies have already been put in that situation and played well last week. Alex Belzile, in particular, has been quite effective in recent games.

"For him, he needed some time to get comfortable with some of the players he was around," Wroblewski said. "He's been initiating a lot more. The plays he's been making, he's been having much more of an impact on the game. But it's his play in different areas that's setting himself up for scoring chances.

"He's much better with his cutbacks in the offensive zone. He's much more diligent with dedication to the forecheck -- whether that's a chip and chase or pursuing the puck. That's given him a little bit of space to work with and I think gotten him in a better mindset."

Brandt also complimented rookie forward Christian Ouellet for his play as the season hit its midway point.

"Those guys at the beginning of the year were in and out of the lineup," Brandt said. "I think, like any good player who gets an opportunity, they make the most of it. Those guys are a classy example players who waited patiently. Now they've gotten the opportunity and they're showcasing their talent.

"Those are the players you want. It also says a lot about them as character guys. To be patient and sit there as a young player can be tough sometimes, But both of them are team guys. I've never heard either of them ever make a complaint. Now they're getting their chance."

The Gladiators play Kalamazoo at home tonight and Sunday, then travel to South Carolina and Greenville during the week. They play Florida at home Friday, go to Greenville again next Saturday and round out this set of games with a matinee against Greenville on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

In preparation for that, the team took advantage of having no games this week and mixed in a few extra off days. The respite is over, though, and the Gladiators will continue to have their roster raided. Haddad, once he plays some games, and defenseman Ryan Donald, who should be off IR soon, are excellent candidates for AHL callups.

"If you have a group of guys that is dedicated to playing, and you're not glaringly deficient in a certain area, then you can compete on any given night," Wroblewski said. "That's going to be our mindset going forward. We don't have any time to think about who's in the lineup for the opposition.

"When guys are working together and playing for each other, you can get a lot done."