By Christine Troyke
Gwinnett Daily Post
DULUTH, Ga. – Here are the Gwinnett Gladiators that dominated South Carolina and Florida and Toledo in the playoffs.
Here are the Gwinnett Gladiators that won the American Conference championship.
The Gladiators’ high-powered offense buried Alaska under an avalanche of goals and kept their season alive with a 6-1 drubbing of the Aces in Game 4 of the Kelly Cup finals on Wednesday.
A thunderous crowd of 4,328 was treated to 60 minutes of effort and scoring from Gwinnett, which staved off elimination in this best-of-seven championship series.
“That was the most impressive things about the game, that we played 60 solid minutes,” said rookie forward Guillaume Desbiens, who had two goals in the victory. “The last couple games against them we were so close, we just made some mental mistakes that killed us.
“Today we were on a mission.”
Alaska earned three straight wins on the back of its defense, but failed utterly to contain a feisty and determined Gladiator team at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Desbiens led the blitzkrieg, but seven players collected two or more points and Adam Berkhoel more than kept up his end, shutting out the Aces for 59 minutes and 51 seconds.
Only a power-play goal in the final second spoiled the perfection.
“It was pretty hard to get into a 3-0 hole,” Gwinnett head coach Jeff Pyle said. “Now we’ve seen that when we’re on our game, there’s a good chance of at least being more competitive. Which is really what I wanted. I wanted it to be a good series, win, lose or draw. But we haven’t made it that way, so hopefully we can come with the same energy (today) and do whatever we have to do to bring it back to Alaska.”
Gwinnett was so totally in control of this game after 40 minutes that the line to buy tickets for tonight’s Game 5 was 30 people deep during the intermission.
“We played 60 minutes with a lot of energy,” Pyle said. “We stayed out of the (penalty) box as much as we possibly had to.
“I’m pretty proud of the guys, it’d be easy to shut ‘er down and find a reason not to play. But they played hard and they deserved that win.”
For the third straight game, the Gladiators scored first. A gorgeous 1-2-3 passing play on the power play handcuffed Alaska goalie Chris Beckford-Tseu and Gwinnett took a 1-0 lead 5:17 into the game.
ECHL MVP Jeff Campbell had the puck along the boards halfway into the Aces’ zone and snapped it over to Scott Mifsud near the right post. Mifsud quickly fired across the open crease to Milan Gajic, who had a yawning net. Gajic buried it top shelf and collected his 11th goal of the playoffs.
Special teams continued to stand the Gladiators in good stead. Still running in fifth gear, Gwinnett’s penalty kill did an exceptional job against an Alaska power play that was 6 of 13 in the previous two games.
Matt York scored his fourth goal of the postseason at 17:20 and the Gladiators took a 2-0 lead into the second period – along with an abbreviated power play.
Gwinnett had a 2-0 lead in Game 2, only to lose 4-3 in Alaska. With a season on the line there was no quit in the Gladiators this time.“In other games of the series, we’ve had lapses,” York said. “But no one on this team is ever going to quit.”
Sixteen seconds after the power play expired, Desbiens converted after Brown came off the bench to keep the puck in the Aces’ end. Campbell, in the high slot, kicked it over to Desbiens who ripped a shot home 1:02 into the second period.
“The two-goal lead is the worst lead you can have,” Desbiens said. “They only need one goal and you’re playing on your heels. So it was important to get the third goal.
“Then the fourth goal by Brownie was huge. Then we only had to play smart, no turnovers and keep the puck deep in their zone. And that’s what we did.”
York and Brown teamed up again to give Gwinnett a 4-0 lead, this time with York finding Brown in the crease and the veteran making no mistake at 13:38.
Beckford-Tseu’s night didn’t get any better when Mifsud made it 5-0 less than 90 seconds later. Mifsud rolled down the left wing with defenseman Lane Manson trailing through the middle. The rookie wound up and ripped a shot past Beckford-Tseu that popped the goalie’s water bottle off the top of the net.
As if that wasn’t enough to electrify the more than 4,000 on hand, the Gladiators killed off a 5-on-3 Alaska power play to close out the second period. Berkhoel made save after save and a clear as time ran out in the period brought a roar from the raucous crowd.
A 5-on-3 power play goal by Desbiens rounded out the scoring and turned the final minutes into a parade of penalties on both teams.
“Our backs are against the wall again still,” Desbiens. “But I know that’s the situation in which we play best and we just have to do the exact same thing we did tonight.”