The starting lineup on Tuesday night had Jake Trask, Daniel Gentzler and Stephen Pierog at the forward positions. The starting defensive pair? Brandon Pfiel and Eric Shand.
Those five are quite familiar to fans of the Macon Mayhem, with each having spent at least a good part of the current season in Macon.
Tuesday night, however, they were playing on the next level up in hockey’s minor leagues, helping the ECHL’s Atlanta Gladiators to a 5-0 win against Greenville. In fact, Trask, Gentzler and Pfiel were each loaned on Tuesday with defenseman Daniel Echeverri being loaned to Greenville the same day — seeing the team lose, at least at the moment, four players off of its roster in a single day.
“It’s definitely a higher level. When I go up, I try to keep things simpler, my role changes a little bit than what it is here,” Gentzler said. “It’s hockey — I’ve played it my whole life. You just do the same things but it’s a little bit faster and stronger.”
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The burning up of the road between Macon and Gwinnett County continued for Trask, Gentzler and Pfiel later in the week with each of them returning from their loan in time to help the Mayhem grind out a 3-2 win against Birmingham. Stathis Soumelidis also was back in Macon, coming back from being with Adirondack.
The time for Gentzler, Pfiel and Trask may have been extremely short in Atlanta of the ECHL, a AA league just two steps below the NHL. But each of them made the most of it. Gentzler tallied his first career ECHL goal and logged an assist with Pfiel having a plus-two rating and Trask a plus-one. It all capped off a night in which the team’s lineup to begin the game was comprised of all but one player that started the season in Macon.
“Going into it, we kind of thought it might happen,” Pfiel said. “Their coach (Chuck Weber) is a real good guy and did it for us. I had some good shifts and good game, it was fun.”
For the Mayhem organization, weeks such as this one certainly have their up and down sides. While the prospect of having key players out of the lineup can throw the team a curve ball, it also hammers home that Macon is fertile ground for developing players, the team being among the SPHL leaders in players called up this season with players being loaned to the ECHL 20 times.
“Guys keep getting called up and have success and keep getting called up,” Gentzler said. “Teams want winners, and I think that’s what we have here, winners. It shows when we go up and have success.”
While some players being called up to the ECHL may fill a temporary need such as replacing players dealing with short-term injuries, other occasions result in players being called up being long-term. Pierog’s most recent loan to Atlanta came on Jan. 9 and he still remains with the Gladiators. Defenseman Chris Joseph’s time in the ECHL for all intents and purposes looks to be long-term with him being with Jacksonville since Nov. 27 after starting the season in Macon.
“We’ve been fortunate to recruit really good players, and they are players that deserve opportunities to get called up to the next level,” Mayhem head coach Kevin Kerr said. “It’s frustrating at the same time, but a good thing for organization and league to get guys called up, because that’s what we’re here for.”
Macon, which played on Saturday at Knoxville, is looking to entrench itself in the upper half of the standings with about a month and half left in the regular season. Friday’s win moved Macon (22-11-5) to 49 points and third in the standings, three out of second place behind Pensacola and trailing first-place Peoria by four points.
Friday’s victory gave Macon three wins in its previous six contests.