ECHL Team History | The Atlanta Gladiators

Photo: Taylor Trebotte | Inside The Rink

The Atlanta Gladiators are a professional minor league ice hockey team headquartered in Duluth, Georgia. They compete in the South Division of the ECHL’s Eastern Conference. The team hosts their home games at Gas South Arena, situated about 22 miles (35 km) northeast of Atlanta. The franchise initially originated as the Mobile Mysticks, established in Mobile, Alabama, from 1995 to 2002. However, a decline in attendance led to the suspension of operations in 2002.

After a brief hiatus, the franchise was relocated to Gwinnett County, Georgia, in 2003 under the ownership of Toby Jeffreys, where it was rebranded as the Gwinnett Gladiators. Subsequently, Jeffreys divested minority ownership stakes to local entrepreneurs, establishing Gwinnett County Hockey, LLC. The team’s inaugural season as the Gwinnett Gladiators marked the appointment of Jeff Pyle as head coach. Pyle had served as the head coach of the Mysticks since 1998.

The Gladiators had their inaugural home game in the ECHL on October 24th, 2003, facing off against the Augusta Lynx and securing a 5-1 victory. During their debut season, the team achieved 42 wins, and 22 losses, and progressed to the Kelly Cup Playoff Conference finals.

During the 2005-2006 season, the Gladiators achieved success by securing the American Conference South Division Championship. The team wrapped up the regular season with an impressive record of 50 wins, 15 losses, and 8 shootout losses. Despite this remarkable feat, their journey culminated in defeat in the Kelly Cup finals against the Alaska Aces. Nevertheless, the Gladiators sustained their competitive edge over the following seasons, qualifying for the playoffs consistently in their initial six seasons.

Jeff Pyle assumed the position of head coach on July 13, 2011, for the Texas Stars in the American Hockey League. The Gladiators appointed John Wroblewski, the former assistant coach of the Wheeling Nailers, as Pyle’s successor in the head coaching role. Under Wroblewski’s leadership, the Gladiators achieved success. In both the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons, the Gladiators clinched first place in the South Division, marking a notable achievement for the team.

On August 7, 2013, Wroblewski began his role as an assistant coach for the AHL’s Rochester Americans. Rick Emmett, a former Gladiators defenseman, initially assumed the head coach position. However, Emmett’s tenure as head coach concluded on December 2, 2014. Subsequently, Andy Brandt, the assistant coach and former Gladiator captain, assumed the role of interim head coach. Brandt fulfilled this interim position for the remainder of the 2014–15 season before officially being appointed head coach on March 21, 2015. Furthermore, in December 2014, Mike Flanagan, the former head coach of the Valpellice Bulldogs, joined the coaching staff as an assistant coach.

Following the 2014–15 season, the Gladiators underwent a rebranding initiative and formed a partnership with the Boston Bruins and their AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins. This collaboration led to the team’s renaming as the Atlanta Gladiators on September 9, 2015, to broaden their influence within the Atlanta metropolitan region. The rebranding efforts encompassed revising the primary and wordmark logos to integrate the Atlanta designation while still preserving the team’s original logos and color scheme.

In the 2017–18 season, the franchise was acquired by Danor Vienna LLC, an ownership group from Virginia led by real estate developer P. Daniel Orlich. As a result, Head Coach Weber departed the team after one season to become an assistant coach for the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) NCAA Div. I men’s team, citing proximity to home as a key factor. Jeff Pyle then returned to his role as head coach and general manager.

In 2019, the Gladiators made another minor rebranding move by changing their primary colors from garnet and black to navy blue and gold. However, on October 1, 2020, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Gladiators decided to follow the ECHL’s COVID-19 voluntary suspension policy. As a result, they chose not to participate in the 2020–21 season and planned to return to play in the subsequent season.

Before the 2022–23 season began, the team ownership shifted to ATL Hockey Group, LLC. The group is spearheaded by businessman Alex Campbell, with former NHL player and NHL on TNT commentator Anson Carter having a minority ownership. On November 7, 2022, the Gladiators announced their intention to adopt the previous identity of the Atlanta Thrashers for a special game on December 16 against the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. Though the Gladiators fell in overtime to the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, a jam-packed crowd of nearly 9,000 rejoiced in the one-night-only return of the Thrashers.

The ECHL announced the Gladiators as finalists for the 2022-23 Team Awards, which were presented at the 2023 ECHL Hockey Summer Meetings in Las Vegas, NV, on Wednesday, June 28. The Atlanta Gladiators had been selected as one of five nominees for “Theme Night of the Year”. This recognition was for their sold-out event that occurred on December 16, 2022, honoring the former NHL franchise in Atlanta, the Thrashers, as part of the team’s 20th-anniversary celebration. The Gladiators paid tribute to the Atlanta Thrashers by wearing their uniforms, showcasing the team’s mascot, Thrash, and reviving the Blueland experience after more than a decade. The success of the “Believe in Blueland” theme night led to its return for the 2023-24 season, scheduled for March 2, 2024.

On June 6, 2023, The Gladiators announced Derek Nesbitt, their former captain and Assistant Head Coach, as the new head coach for the 2023-24 season. Jeff Pyle, who served as the head coach for the past four seasons, moved into the position of Director of Hockey Operations. Additionally, in August of 2023, the Gladiators revealed that forward Eric Neiley had announced that he had retired from playing professional hockey and would take on the role of the next assistant coach for the team for the upcoming season.

The Gladiators have had affiliations with various NHL teams throughout their history. Initially, they were connected with the Atlanta Thrashers from 2003 to 2011. During this period, they also shared an affiliation with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2008-2009 season and with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2009-2010. After the Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg, Manitoba, the Gladiators became affiliated with the Phoenix Coyotes, now the Arizona Coyotes, from 2011 to 2015. The Gladiators then served as the AA affiliate of the Boston Bruins from 2015 to 2018. When the ECHL resumed after the COVID-19 break, the Gladiators were affiliated with the Ottawa Senators for the 2021-22 season and then reunited with Arizona for the 2022-23 season.

The team boasts a rich history with several distinguished players. Among those who have transitioned to successful careers in the NHL after playing for the Gladiators are goaltenders Louis Domingue and Daniel Vladar. Moreover, the Gladiators have honored the contributions of three beloved players by retiring their jersey numbers: #44 Cam Brown, #41 Andy Brandt, and #17 Derek Nesbitt.

The Gladiators actively engage with their community by partnering with local charities and organizations, participating in community events, and supporting hockey initiatives in the Atlanta region. One of their most successful annual events is the teddy bear toss, where fans are encouraged to throw stuffed animals onto the ice after the team scores its first goal. These donations are then given to local hospitals and charities that support children in need. During the 2022-23 season, the team set a new franchise record with 15,067 stuffed animals tossed onto the ice just 51 seconds into the game. In the 2023-2024 season, the Gladiators ranked third among all ECHL teams in the event, collecting 13,624 stuffed animals.

Additionally, the Gladiators collaborated with USA Hockey on November 7, 2023, along with three local rinks, as part of Try Hockey for Free Day to bring the joy of hockey to the Metro Atlanta community. The event’s purpose was to provide children aged 4 to 9 with a free opportunity to experience youth hockey.

On August 29, 2023, the Atlanta Gladiators, in collaboration with the Gas South District, confirmed a four-year lease extension with Gas South Arena. Gas South Arena has served as the home of the Gladiators since the franchise moved to Gwinnett County from Mobile, Alabama, in 2003. This marks the first time the Gladiators and Gas South Arena have agreed to a long-term lease extension since then.

Related Post: The History of ECHL Franchises

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 Team History | The Atlanta Gladiators”

  1. Well you only passed along some of the history. I served as team president of the Atlanta Gladiators under the Danor Vienna ownership. I was responsible for many of the on and off the ice success. Including bringing the first Korean born player to the ECHL. I was also an ECHL nominee for executive of the year. My staff and team were responsible for the five nominees by the ECHL. I Just thought you should know. Feel free to google my name linked with the Atlanta Gladiators. Thank you Jerald C. James

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