Last season, it was mostly smooth sailing for the ECHL's Gwinnett Gladiators.
Despite bowing out in the second round of the Kelly Cup playoffs to the Cincinnati Cyclones, they won the South Division in the Eastern Conference for the second straight year and played some tremendous defensive hockey along the way.
They set a franchise record for least goals allowed and the least since their inaugural season in Gwinnett back in 2003-04.
That smooth sailing that the Gladiators were accustomed to last season hit some rocky waters over the first third of the 2013-14 campaign, finding themselves in the basement of the South division for the first two months of the season.
Maybe all they needed was a five day break in late December, because since Christmas the Glads have carried a winning holiday spirit into the new year.
They're on fire of late, winning four of their last five and seven of their past 10 games.
I spoke to David Foley, voice of the Gladiators, after Friday night's 5-1 loss to the Orlando Solar Bears, and we touched on a few topics concerning the team.
On the team's turnaround - "I think it's a lot of young guys stepping up, getting more comfortable at this level, guys like Josh Currie, Brendan Walker, two Coyotes prospects who have played much better lately. I think it's getting everybody back. The Gladiators haven't have a full lineup all season, so the team hasn't had a lot of time to gel."
On the 5-1 defeat Friday - "Orlando is a really good team, a very physical team, and I think it caught the Gladiators off guard a little bit because their last few opponents aren't on this level physically. What you saw was Orlando winning a lot of battles for the puck along the boards and as a result, they were able to pin Gwinnett in their zone a lot tonight. I expect before we go out on the road to make tomorrow night a statement game against this same Orlando team."
On the goalies - "Karpowich prior to tonight had been really good for Gwinnett and Brad Phillips has been magnificent. They have been kind of splitting time, and I think with a big performance tomorrow Brad can make a case for being the starter going forward so I think this is a big game for him."
NOTE - The Gladiators defeated the Solar Bears by a score of 6-5 Saturday night in a shootout.
The Gladiators after splitting the two games with Orlando now head on the road for four including stops in Cincinnati and Evansville, home to two of the top three teams in the conference, and they'll do so with the services of their leading point getter from a season ago, Casey Pierro-Zabotel.
The former Gladiators star went to play overseas in Germany but will now don a Gladiator uniform for the second half in his quest to help his team back to the postseason.
In 2012-13, Pierro-Zabotel led the Gladiators in goals and points, averaging over a point per game. In 66 regular season games, he scored 22 times and added 53 assists, and was a team high +19. He also led the team in the playoffs with nine points in their 10 games.
After a rocky start to the year, the waters seem to be calm once again as the Gladiators look to continue their rise up the Eastern Conference standings. As of the start of the week, the Gladiators are just eight points out of a playoff spot but they have just hit the halfway mark.
This upcoming road trip will go a long way in determining whether or not this young team can make a serious playoff push. We'll be back towards the end of the month with another update on the Gladiators progress and see if their ship stays on course for the playoffs.
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