Glenelg Coach Tim Berry was proud of the way his team played last season, but in the end the Gladiators came up one game short -- or as Berry termed it, one goal short -- of making the playoffs.

Atholton was Glenelg's opponent, and for a team to make the Maryland Scholastic Hockey League playoffs, it had to have a .500 or better overall record. Glenelg needed a win or a tie in the final regular season game but lost, 3-1. Glenelg trailed 2-1 into the final minute before Atholton scored an empty-netter after Glenelg pulled the goalie for an extra skater.

"Last year, I think we came out of being a kind of cellar-dweller type of team," said Berry. "And this year, clearly we have much more passion in the locker room, optimism that we could be the team [in Howard County]."

This era of good feeling for Glenelg is rooted primarily in the play of the defensemen and goaltender. Senior Dwayne Coffman and juniors Greg Schappel and Keith Sweetman make up that defensive trio, but listen to Berry, a native of hockey-crazy Minnesota and a travel team coach with the Howard Huskies, and you know he wants these three to get aggressive when it comes to scoring.

"They are multi-talented. I do let them rush the puck. They rush the puck to create some offense," said Berry, now in his second year with Glenelg. "All three of them can put the puck in the net and then can get back and cover 'D' when they [have to].

"[But] clearly we're going to be a defensive team. We're not going to win games 8 to 6. We're gonna win 3 to 1, 4 to 1."

Berry's confidence in their abilities is evident: All three are on Glenelg's power play line. Sweetman and Schappel move to forward, and Coffman stays on defense with freshman Matt Phile. Sophomore Zach Berry, last year's leading scorer, rounds out the power play line.

Glenelg's goaltending situation has also improved greatly from the time back in 2002 when Glenelg was forced to take its best skater -- Jeremy Tosh -- and put him in goal.

Junior Matt Berry, who played at DeMatha in ninth grade before transferring to Glenelg last season, has played the position since age 12 and also plays for the Howard Huskies AA team.

"We have a lot of travel [team] players," said Matt Berry, the coach's son. That experience -- more than half of the 14 skaters play outside high school -- should translate to victories, he said. "Having a good defense it's easy to trust that if I accidentally let up a bad rebound they'll be there to [clear the puck] for me."

Glenelg is 1-1 this season, shutting out Mount Hebron, 4-0, in its league opener last week. Glenelg played Wilde Lake on Tuesday in a game that happened after press time.

Coffman, described by Tim Berry as the "biggest hitter on the team," is not afraid to throw his 6-foot 160-pound frame right into the mug of an oncoming opponent.

"I hit a lot of people, that's basically what I do," said Coffman, who has played travel hockey for nine years and plays club ball for Metro. "It's a physical game."

Coffman was also the team's second-leading scorer last season.

According to his teammate Sweetman, Coffman is the vocal leader of the team. If the squad needs a pep talk in between periods, Coffman's the guy.

Coach Berry praised Schappel as a "tremendous hustler" and Sweetman as the type of player who simply won't let an opponent get past him one on one.

"When I see [Sweetman] one on one I'm just not worried," Tim Berry said. "He just knocks the puck away or knocks them down."

"We came out of being a kind of cellar-dweller type of team," Glenelg Coach Tim Berry said.Justin Halpin scores a goal for Glenelg in its league opener, a 4-0 win over Mount Hebron.