By Jim Brock
Gwinnett Daily Post
DULUTH, Ga. – Gwinnett Gladiators fans were decked out and ready for the first game of the fourth season Friday night against the South Carolina Stingrays at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
After a loss last season against Alaska for the ECHL Championship, the fans weren’t deterred from coming out to show their support.
Before the game, the South Division and American Conference Championship banners were raised, and the season was kicked off soon after.
Vicki Heller of Dawsonville came ready for hockey with her family and a friend of her 9-year-old son.
Heller said it was too soon to speculate on the season, but she’s looking forward to what the Gladiators will bring to the ice for the next several months.
“I haven’t checked it out yet, but I guess I’ll find out after tonight’s game,” she said.
Dylan, her son, said he was excited about the game, but he had bigger fish to fry.
“He likes to check out the chicks,” Heller said about her son.
Bryan Skalku of Alpharetta said he is thrilled about the new season. He attended at least half of the games last season, and said Gwinnett offers the perfect environment for hockey, even better than Atlanta.
“There’s free parking, it’s a better venue and you don’t have to worry about your car being broken into,” he said.
Mike Straw of Hamilton Mill, a Los Angeles transplant, was standing in line to buy tickets for a few more upcoming games.
He was attending a birthday party for a friend’s child, but the hockey ended up being somewhat of a perk.
Straw said the he can bring his three kids to the games and know everyone will have a good time.
“It’s great compared to L.A.,” Straw said. “This is a place you can bring your family to. It’s clean, affordable.”
Dale and Claudette Jones of Buford, who are originally from Detroit, spent a good part of their lives watching Red Wings games. The couple also lived in Chicago for a number of years, and continued to watch hockey in the windy city.
Now residents of Gwinnett County, they are glad they have a place close to home to see some good hockey.
“The arena is perfect,” Dale said.
“It’s beautiful,” Claudette added.
Jim Forbes of Duluth, along with his children, Max, 4, and Maddie, 2, agreed that the hockey games offer a good time for the entire family.
“The kids like it because it’s exciting,” he said. “It’s constant go, go, go, and that’s what they like.
“And I enjoy it because I like hockey. It’s a sport that just doesn’t stop — it’s like soccer.”
Blake Martin of Norcross was attending his first Gladiators game. After seeing the Thrashers play, he expects this league to offer a little more excitement.
“I think it will probably be more intense because they’re going to try harder to get to that level,” he said. “I like to go to the games. I don’t really watch it on TV.”
Along with Martin was friend Jesse Roberson of Douglas, who was attending his first game ever. He said he was getting excited just standing in the lobby listening to what was going on behind him.
“I hear the noise and it’s getting me pumped,” he said.