By Brandon Brigman
Gwinnett Daily Post
DULUTH, Ga. – Cam Brown sat in his locker after Game 5 of the Kelly Cup Finals with his head down trying to fight back the tears.
The Gwinnett Gladiators just lost to the Alaska Aces 4-3 on Thursday, but what made it worse for Brown and the rest of the Gladiators was watching the Aces’ celebrate on their home ice after winning the Kelly Cup.
“That’s the toughest thing I had to witness professionally,” said captain Cam Brown, a 15-year veteran who admitted this was his final game.
The Aces won Game 5 of the Kelly Cup Finals to win the series 4-1, abruptly ending the Gladiators season.
“I don’t think anyone in this locker room thought we would lose the championship before the series started,” rookie Scott Mifsud said.
Despite Gwinnett’s loss, the Gladiators still turned in the best season in the clubs short three-year history in Gwinnett.
“I don’t think it’s that heartbreaking,” Gwinnett Gladiators coach Jeff Pyle said. “I’m disappointed for the guys because they earned the cup I think. I’m not disappointed in our season and anybody with a brain in their head knows we had a good season.”
The Gladiators collected a 50-15-7 record, the most wins in club history. Twenty-nine of those wins came at home and 21 on the road, both new team records.
Gwinnett scored 107 points during the regular season, one of only four teams in league history ever to do so. The other was Alaska, making this year’s Kelly Cup the first finals with two teams that scored more than 100 points each during the regular season.
The Gladiators won their second division title in team history and their first conference championship with a 4-1 series win over Toledo.Individually, the Gladiators racked up numerous awards, most notably second-year player Jeff Campbell being name ECHL Most Valuable Player.
Three Gladiators were selected to the ECHL All-Star game (Troy Milam, Guillaume Desbiens and Campbell), Jon Awe was selected to the league’s all-rookie team and head coach Jeff Pyle was coach of the All-Star game for the third straight year.
So all-in-all not bad for a young Gladiators team. Of the Gladiators’ 22 players, nine of them are rookies. Only two players, Brown and Rick Emmett, have more than three years of professional experience.
The Gladiators breezed through the first three rounds of the playoffs by going 10-2 and outscoring their opponents 53-39. However, it was in the finals where the Gladiators met a much smarter and more experienced team. As a result, Gwinnett lost the first three games of the series. The Gladiators had not lost three games in a row all season.
A big reason for the turnaround in the finals was the veteran Alaska team. Of Alaska’s 24 players, 19 of them have more than three years of experience in the pros. Most notably, 15-year veteran Kimbi Daniels.
Gwinnett held a 3-1 lead in the first period for about 37 seconds before the Aces came back with two goals in two minutes to tie the game at 3-3 going into the second period.
A Mike Scott goal in the second period gave the Aces a 4-3 advantage.The goal was Scott’s second of the game and 11th the series as he was named finals MVP.
“You don’t feel it right now, but this was a pretty special year,” Mifsud said. “Individually, we a had a lot of guys do well. We’ll look back in a couple of day and see this was a pretty good season.”