ECHL: Atlanta Gladiators 2023-2024 End of Season Report

Photo: Andrew Fielder for Inside the Rink

This end-of-the-season report is jam-packed with lots of statistical analysis collected from data provided on the ECHL website. Up first, we break it down by the numbers, starting with overall team statistics including a year-to-year comparison. Followed by these focus areas – Player Goal Comparison, Game-Winning Goal Leaders, First Goal of the Game Leaders, Player Assist Comparison and Assist Leaders, and finally the Plus/Minus Comparison. After that, we have our Team MVPs for our Forwards, Defensemen, and Goalies, with the Overall Team Health Report and Coaching Notes following suit.

Finally, just for fun, I included some personal team awards that highlight memorable moments from the season, such as my favorite interview, the most challenging one, and other instances that brought a smile to my face.

Team Statistics – End of Season

League Standing: 27th (Last)

Conference: 13th (Last)

South Division: (7th (Last)

Regular Season Points: 50

WIN PERCENTAGE BREAKDOWN

End of Regular Season 2021-2022:  59.7% – Head Coach Jeff Pyle

End of Regular Season 2022-2023: 48.6% – Head Coach Jeff Pyle

End of Regular Season 2023-2024: 31.9% – Head Coach Derek Nesbitt

Year to Year Comparison (Season Ending 2022 vs 2023) = decrease by 11.1%

Year to Year Comparison (Season Ending 2023 vs 2024) = decrease by 16.7%

POWERPLAY PERCENTAGE BREAKDOWN

Total Powerplays 2023-2024: 217


End of Regular Season 2021-2022: 19.30%

End of Regular Season 2022-2023: 21.30%

End of Regular Season 2023-2024: 18.40%

Year to Year Comparison (Season Ending 2022 vs 2023) = increase by 2.00%

Year to Year Comparison (Season Ending 2023 vs 2024) = decrease by 2.90%

PENALTY KILL BREAKDOWN

Total Penalty Kills 2023-2024: 213


End of Regular Season 2021-2022: 83.60%

End of Regular Season 2022-2023: 77.80%

End of Regular Season 2023-2024: 80.10%

Year to Year Comparison (Season Ending 2022 vs 2023) = 5.80% decrease

Year to Year Comparison (Season Ending 2023 vs 2024) = 2.30% increase

Team Statistics – End of Season Roster

Active players from the roster at the end of the regular season are included in team statistics.

Among All Forwards and Defensemen with Atlanta at the end of the Regular Season
Among All Forwards and Defensemen with Atlanta at the end of the Regular Season

Most first goals of the game among Forwards and Defensemen with Atlanta at the end of the Regular Season

Statistics ECHL


Among All Forwards and Defensemen with Atlanta at the end of the Regular Season

Among All Forwards and Defensemen with Atlanta at the End of the Season
**Injured Reserve List as of 01.24.24

INSIDE THE RINK PLAYER RANKINGS

TEAM MVP – FORWARDS

After playing in all 72 games for Atlanta, Jackson Pierson (#19) earned my Team MVP among forwards after tallying a total of 43 points (17G, 26A). He ranked the highest in total points for the team, among both forwards and defensemen that had played for Atlanta this season. He was also only one of two players for Atlanta who played in all 72 games this season, along with Ryan Cranford (#27), the latter having earned 26 points across that same span. Pierson was given the Alternate Captain honors late in the regular season and had continuously demonstrated his ability to help lead his team.

Micah Miller, #57, is also being recognized here for his significant contributions to the Gladiators. Throughout 31 games, he has accumulated a total of 41 points (23G, 18A). Particularly noteworthy was the collaboration between Miller, Vitelli, and Fossier, which greatly influenced the team’s performance earlier in the season. Miller’s versatility on the ice has consistently played a pivotal role in enhancing the team’s positioning for improved scoring opportunities. Even though the team didn’t achieve the desired results, a great deal of their success must be attributed to Miller and his linemates’ ability to adapt consistently throughout the season.

TEAM MVP – DEFENSEMEN

Luke Prokop (#6) led the team for defensemen in points with a season-ending 28, earning the MVP for Defensemen. He had three game-winning goals for the team and one overtime goal. Prokop was called up to the Milwaukee Admirals and played in 8 games with the AHL team throughout this season, where he earned 2 assists for a total of 2 points for the Admirals. He had the lowest PIMG for the Atlanta Gladiators, among the defensemen, with 0.29 PIMG. He was second in shots overall among both the forwards and defenseman for Atlanta with a total of 139 shots taken.

*  % calculated on the number of games played with only Atlanta

Robbie Calisti #4 also deserved recognition for his exceptional performance since he joined Atlanta’s roster. After 40 games with Atlanta, the defenseman tallied 18 points (7G, 11A). Before joining Atlanta’s roster, Calisti showcased his skills with the Kalamazoo Wings, accumulating 12 points (4G, 8A). Calisti consistently delivered when the team required his contributions the most. Over the course of this season, he has earned a total of 30 points across 63 games played (11G, 19A) between the two teams. He also has put up six Powerplay goals; four with Atlanta and 2 for Kalamazoo.

Zach Yoder (#11), having earned the Alternate Captain honors late in the season, does need to be mentioned here. He skated in over 87% of the games this season with nearly the same statistics as Griffin Luce (see above). One of the team’s few veteran players, Yoder had stepped up considerably, especially in the second half of the season.

Griffin Luce had made some valuable contributions of his own and was promoted to play six games with the Milwaukee Admirals in March, where he earned 2 assists (2 pts), before returning to the Gladiators.

TEAM MVP – GOALIES

Gustavs Davis Grigals (#30) was the goalie with the highest number of appearances among the team’s goalkeepers on the season’s final roster and has unquestionably established a significant reputation which earned him this category’s MVP for the season. Boasting a commendable save percentage of .900 and a noteworthy shootout victory, Grigals consistently astounded spectators with saves that seemed to defy comprehension. He also had three shutout wins to his credit – Allen Americans (October 29), Savannah Ghost Pirates (March 13), and Jacksonville Icemen (April 3).

Games Played – Wins -Losses – Among Goalies on Season End Roster
*  % calculated on the number of games played with Atlanta

Players of Note

Forward Parker AuCoin (#32) – acquired from the Idaho Steelheads in late March (3/20), AuCoin did not waste any time getting points on the board for Atlanta. Since joining the team he had tallied five goals for Atlanta just in the month of April.

Forward Carson Denomie (#83) – Demonie scored a late-season hat trick having tallied three goals, and one assist in the game against the Jacksonville Icemen (4/14) with a total of 11 points on the season (3G, 8A).

Overall Team Health Report

When it comes to a defensive strategy, maintaining a physical and assertive approach was essential; however, it was important for the team to have executed these actions intentionally which did not always seem to happen. The Gladiators struggled with penalties this season, having had to kill off penalties a total of 266 times, which has added undue pressure and limited their ability to execute scoring plays. This resulted in putting a lot of pressure on their goaltenders. In comparison though their penalty kill percentage was high at 80.1%, and was better than the year prior. The Greenville Swamp Rabbits led the division this year with an 82% penalty kill percentage and 10 shorthanded goals. Atlanta was on par with its nine shorthanded goals. The Gladiators were dead even at the power play compared to the Swamp Rabbits and had the same number of shootout wins at two apiece.

Where Atlanta failed, and there is no other way to say it, was getting quality shots on goal. It may seem overly simplified to state this but Atlanta needed every opportunity to put the puck to the opponent’s net and being at a disadvantage as a result of penalties did not help their cause. At the end of the season, they only made 187 goals compared to Greenville’s 224. In fact, when you compare Atlanta to other teams in the division that made the Kelly Cup Playoffs you see the same, most of the statistics align except the total number of goals scored. Most teams in the division had well over 200 goals, whereas Atlanta was significantly below that threshold. I am not saying Atlanta should adopt the “shoot the puck” mentality to an extreme but positioning themselves better offensively is something that should be addressed. Again, quality shots on goal are is what needed most.

There is one more thing we must consider for Atlanta next season. The Gladiators often failed to position themselves and relied far too often on the “dump and chase” tactic. We all know that haphazardly dumping the puck without a clearly defined plan is not ideal. There is always the possibility that a turnover could occur, resulting in a breakaway, which happened to Atlanta on more than one occasion.

After Atlanta’s impressive 8-game winning streak at the start of the season, our defensive performance also suffered, especially in terms of goalie support. Despite our goalie’s skill in the net, Atlanta could have provided more consistency in protecting the crease. Defensively, we do need that aggressive type of player, and though penalties are a concern duly noted in this report, a team can have that type of player without the old-school enforcer mindset. There is something to be said for having a player on the team who creates a momentum shift on the ice especially when the team needs it most.

Additionally, Atlanta will need to strengthen these areas during the off-season while they scout for potential prospects to fill roles when contracted players on loan to the team progress upward. In my opinion, it’s not a question of if but rather when, as many of these players have demonstrated the potential to achieve great things which is what anyone should want to see happen for them from a player development standpoint.

To put this in perspective, over 740 ECHL players have transitioned to the NHL, with 13 players making their NHL debut at the start of the 2023-24 season. Since 2002-03, when it became the main developmental league for the NHL and the AHL, the ECHL has seen 548 players move up to the NHL. Additionally, within its initial ten seasons, 97 players have reached the NHL, and within the first 15 years, this number increased to 215 players.

While a young team like Atlanta will certainly face challenges when players make that move, instead of starting over, the team should build on a foundation that already holds immense talent. We must acknowledge the impact of call-ups for players who have shown outstanding potential this season. Some are now with the Milwaukee Admirals as they made their Calder Cup run. Here is the current list below:

Also, notable here is the selection of Gustavs Grigals by the Nashville Predators to serve as the 3rd available goalie for the team as they make their Stanley Cup Playoff run.

The ECHL will certainly be a proving ground for players with NHL aspirations, and that is something to be commended not seen as a hindrance. It should be no surprise that we see that type of movement throughout the season. The contention here is that it does demonstrate that these players are not only talented in their own right but are also able to use their time at the ECHL level to hone and develop those skills with proper coaching. However, Atlanta needs to create a central core of players committed to the ongoing development of the team within the mindset that with or without those AHL or NHL-contracted players available, the team continues to develop its skaters and encourages leaders to take shape both on and off the ice. In other words, with or without those players, Atlanta needs to see a solid performance on every shift – one shift at a time.

Coaching Notes

A successful coaching relationship should begin with honesty and transparency, which is the cornerstone of any relationship a coach has with their team. Although my interactions with the coaching staff have been limited, it is evident that both Head Coach Nesbitt and Assistant Head Coach Eric Neiley have prioritized both. On April 3rd, when asked at the season’s last home game what he thought of where the team was at that moment, Coach Nesbitt stated how important it was for the Gladiators to close out the season on a positive note. That night’s win occurred after what felt for many of us as one of the most complete games the team had played since the opening of the season, and especially since the mid-season point. Nesbitt agreed and stated that team performance is something they continually adjusted for. “We look in the mirror and as I told the players, it’s not just you, that’s me too”, Coach Nesbitt added. Though the team dropped their final two season-ending home games, they rallied as they finished the season by winning both of the final away games against the Jacksonville Icemen.

Consistency is crucial for team progress and player development. In the same vein, providing support for coaches as they work with the team is vital. We need to have faith in the process and understand that progress isn’t going to happen in a straight line from Point A to Point B. We all want the same thing, a team that can show us what they did in those first eight games of the season and consistently. The pieces are all there, and the coaching staff can certainly make that season-opening momentum happen once again.

Regardless of how the season ended, no matter what the numbers may say, you cannot put a percentage or statistical analysis on the team’s love of the game, or on the heart they show every time they step onto the ice. That is not ever going to be quantifiable.


On a much lighter note, I want to conclude with some personal highlights of the season from my perspective and add a touch of fun. Here are my personal (and highly subjective) selections for team awards and a few moments that, in my personal experience, were some of the best.

Best Interview: Gustavs Grigals, Goaltender

If you had a chance to read that interview you know that Gustavs Grigals and I talked for quite a while. Interviews are usually pretty challenging for me. In truth, I get extremely nervous every time, no matter how prepared I am for them. However, Goose was friendly and easy to talk to, and after a few minutes that nervousness on my end faded. Honestly, I could have kept going, he was that easy to talk with. Unfortunately, I think Coach would have had my hide if Goose had been late to their team meeting.

At times, the achievements of athletes beyond sports tend to be overlooked, and there is much more to them as individuals. Researching his background for that piece brought a lot to light about Goose, and I was impressed by who he is as an athlete and even more by who he is as a person.

Most Challenging Interview – Robbie Calisti, Defenseman

Honestly, the responsibility falls solely on me for this situation. Originally, I had been ready to interview a different player, but they were unavailable. Robbie Calisti stepped in to fill the spot. It was my first interview with a player on the team, so yes, the nerves on my end were sky-high. If I had the opportunity, I would have preferred that particular interview to have gone differently due to this factor alone. He handled the situation graciously though, and considering the circumstances it went as well as I could have expected. Many thanks go to Robbie for being a good sport that day.

Favorite Moment of the Season – Gustavs Grigals

The most meaningful moment came at the very end of the season from Gustavs’ mother, who passed on a lovely message to me through Goose after she read his interview. I won’t share specifically what she said, but I have expressed my gratitude to them both. Gustavs’ kind gesture in sharing that message with me made this season all the more memorable, and I am truly grateful to him. I promise to try to live up to that as best as I can.

RUNNER-UP: It will never likely happen again but a Gladiators fan requested my autograph on their team photo that was signed by the whole team. They were dead set on me signing it. They read a few of my articles and liked them. So, floating around out there somewhere is a team photo from 2023-2024 with my John Hancock on it!

Conclusion

There are so many other moments from this season that I will always take with me – my first time stepping into the press box, that first walk on the scaffolding above the ice (Note: I am afraid of heights), my first time stepping onto the ice for (thanks again to Olivia for helping me paint for painting for Stick It To Cancer Night), seeing Mitch Fossier sing the National Anthem, and my first (and awful) attempt at a slapshot.

Hockey is not only about digging into the statistics but also about enjoying those moments that add joy to the game. I hope you enjoyed reading about some of mine as much as I loved being a part of them. I got to be part of something this season that I never imagined possible. I am still pinching myself.

I would also like to give a shout-out to the Booster Club for welcoming me in and for their unwavering support of the team this season – from getting everything ready for the move-in for the players, each and every potluck (there were several), the scrapbooks each player received at the end of the season, and for everything they have done in between. The Booster Club members are the heroes for the team every season, but this year, they went above and beyond, and I know that the team is appreciative of that support.

Lastly, and probably most importantly – I am tremendously grateful to the entire team, the coaches, and the staff for all their support and patience along the way. I look forward to all that is yet to come.

As Liam always says, “Go Glads!”

Karen Zehner

Credentialed Beat Writer covering the ECHL Atlanta Gladiators. Diving into the world of slap shots, penalty kills, and the game we love. [@RunwithK] on socials.

One thought on “ECHL: Atlanta Gladiators 2023-2024 End of Season Report”

  1. Great end of the year review. Thanks for the articles all season long. Now waiting for October to get here.

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