ECHL: The Unyielding Spirit of the Atlanta Gladiators and Their Fans

Photo Credit: Taylor Trebotte for Inside the Rink

I have been a lifelong fan of sports, something I have mentioned before. My upbringing in Northeast Pennsylvania created a strong allegiance to both the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins fairly early on which continues to this day. However, my focus shifted last year to include the ECHL team, the Atlanta Gladiators, ultimately leading me to cover the team extensively this season for Inside the Rink. A responsibility I can assure you I have not taken lightly.

Despite an impressive start, the Atlanta Gladiators have encountered many challenges this season. Today, I am choosing not to dwell on those struggles, but instead, celebrate the resilience displayed by the team and its dedicated fan base. Gladiators, after which this team is named, have always stepped into an arena aware that the outcome might be uncertain, yet they fought to the very end. Their relentless determination to strive for victory continued despite the odds that were surely set against them. The Atlanta Gladiators have embodied this throughout the season, and have shown that no matter what they have faced they have never backed down from it.

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For the Atlanta Gladiators, those odds often changed each time they faced the departure of key players, whether those resulted from their release by the team, a trade, or a call-up. It is a common scenario in the ECHL. Yet, any time you make changes to a team comprised of mostly professional players in their rookie season, you risk upsetting the delicate balance you have worked so hard to forge. You may pave the way for success in the future or completely disrupt the progress you have made so far.

Yet, you can’t help but understand why many feel the loss of players like Cody Sylvester, who went overseas for the remainder of the season. You wonder what will be next for players like Spencer Kennedy, Alex Cohen, and others who were released by the team after being with Atlanta for only a short time. Though they are no longer part of the Atlanta fold, their absence is still nonetheless felt, and you hope that whatever is next for them brings them success. At least for me, it is far more important that they find that than anything else.

I comprehend the intricacies involved in the team’s decision-making process, and undoubtedly, none of these moves were made easily. However, in the end, it’s truly rewarding to witness players such as Jack Matier, progress to the AHL, often with Atlanta fans among the loudest ones cheering them on. We have witnessed all that they have gone through to get there. There is a sense of pride that is felt anytime a player gets that call.

I also know that you can’t fully appreciate the good without also encountering the bad. I won’t claim that everything is perfect for the Atlanta fan base or the team itself. Just like any other team, the AHL and NHL included, there will always be those who will continuously point out any issues or shortcomings and many will die on that sword if they could. It is certainly within their right and is something that truly helps to keep me centered and honest in how I perceive things. However, for some of us, and I do include myself in this group, we can fully acknowledge these issues exist but still keep our hearts right where they were before the season began.

Long before I ever wrote one word about the team, and prior to my first anxious steps up to the press box, I was a fan. Having since witnessed firsthand the heart of this team, and the impact that this season has had on each of them, my support for them has only grown. I have watched, often from afar, as they have weaved their way through this season’s ups and downs. Yes, I am and will remain objective in my coverage, yet my loyalty remains true. I know no other way to be.

During my recent interview with Gustavs Grigals, one particular statement of his resonated with me and continues to hold significance as I write these words today. He simply stated, “We have no quit in us”. His words truly emphasized the unwavering determination of this team; that quitting is not an option and is not part of their mindset. While setbacks and errors are inevitable, along with moments of frustration leading to missteps that will baffle most spectators, their resolve remains. That much I know for certain. If I myself were to die by any sword here today, it would be on that one, and without hesitation.

Regardless of the outcome of these last few games, or what will happen in the off-season, I wish to express my gratitude for the privilege of covering this team, starting with my very first time watching them practice during training camp. It is my hope that my coverage has been fair and accurate, and has served the team well. I look forward to all that is yet to come.

Beyond the statistics I often have to dissect, I understand that the true essence of each player goes far beyond what those numbers can ever reveal – that within each of them lies the spirit of a true Gladiator.


Here are some sentiments shared with me by fans who wanted to express their deep appreciation for the team.

“I want the boys to know how much their efforts mean to us. It has been a long season. It isn’t ending like we want but we know this….They didn’t give up! We got to the arena early and stayed until the final buzzer sounded knowing we were on the short end of the score. That is the Gladiators’ way. Never Give Up! Never Surrender!”Mike Ramer

“My 3.5-year-old, Glo, discovered her love of hockey and Maximus! After her 1st game, she chants, “Let’s Go Glads! Let’s Go Glads! Let’s Go Glads!” She plays pretend that she’s at the hockey stadium. She sings the Zamboni song. Thanks for a fun year of discovery!” -Tara Matuza

“My favorite part of the season was December 29th me and my dad went to the game and I saw my first Glads win ever it was just an electric night and an experience all around and seeing the enemy and seeing my Macon guys in the enemy’s sweater. My favorite moment of the season was in Orlando Josh Boyko got his first win in a glass sweater. It’s been a blast cheering for the players and the staff on and off the ice thank u for putting in the house u have put in for this organization and I hope y’all have a fantastic offseason here’s to many more seasons. GO GLADS GO!” -Matthew Howell

“The Glads games really were just watching hockey. It didn’t matter if they won or lost, it was just something fun to do. But as it went on it was getting to know who was on the team and when they left. It just felt like a family there with everyone else and cheering them on. Even in small interactions I had with the team they seemed kind. Everyone helped each other at games and helped people understand what happened on the ice. It’s just such a fun place to be, no matter what happens there. It means a lot to be able to be there and just watch them play. Every good fan out there would be thrilled just to watch them do what they do!” -Alex

“I just became a Glads fan in December when Mutter got sent down from Milwaukee. Since then I watched every Gladiators game even though the results weren’t the best. That’s part of being a sports fan, it’s sticking through with a team even if they’re not doing the best. I even made a trip to Indiana from Milwaukee to see the Gladiators play the Indy Fuel. They didn’t win any of the games but the guys were still so nice afterwards, and Mutter even gave me his stick. I am already planning on seeing an in-person game next season but until then I will continue just watching the games from home. Go Glads!” -Amelia Rosado

“I grew up going to Knights games with my dad but hadn’t been to a hockey game in probably 20 years when my oldest daughter announced her middle school band would be playing the national anthem for an upcoming Gladiators game. My daughter, like myself, has severe social anxiety but she instantly fell in love! Fast forward almost 2 yrs later and here we are season ticket holders spending most of our Saturdays and Sundays at the games. This has been such a tough season but it has been a great opportunity to teach a valuable lesson. This season has taught my daughter, 13, that you don’t give up on someone or something if they don’t perform the way you expect or if the outcome isn’t what you wanted. I am thankful to have had these memories with my daughter as I did with my father. I am excited for next season and hope more fans stick around despite this year’s struggles.” -Marie Fowler

“I have loved watching the guys play this year. Even though there have been massive challenges. I never felt that they quit playing.. They all care and you can see that. I am going to really miss hockey after this weekend….the countdown starts until the fall.”Jeanine Lesperance


Lastly, but certainly not least, a message from the Atlanta Gladiators to their fans…..

“Dear Glads Nation, all of us at the Atlanta Gladiators organization want to take this moment to thank all of you for your support this season. Amidst a tough season, you stuck with us, and for that, we are forever grateful. Enjoy the final six games, and we’ll turn the page starting this summer. Go Glads!”

Liam Gotimer, Director of Broadcast and Communications

The Atlanta Gladiators will play three back-to-back home games this week starting Wednesday night when they face the Jacksonville Icemen at 7 pm, followed by the Florida Everblades on Thursday at 7 pm, and will be wrapping up the series with Florida on Friday night at 7:30 pm.

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

3 thoughts on “ECHL: The Unyielding Spirit of the Atlanta Gladiators and Their Fans

  1. I have been a follower and fan of the “Atlanta hockey scene” since its birth with the Flames. As the teams evolved through the Knights and Thrashers, and now with the Gladiators, my love of the sport is as strong as ever. I am a season ticket holder and member of the Gladiators Booster Club. With the campaigning for a new NHL team for Atlanta, I will still be a Gladiators fan. Having the opportunity to meet and sit with the players, it’s more than obvious their love of the team, the sport and the fans. I look forward to cheering on the Glads next season!

  2. I’ve had a great time this season and signed up for next year. I have never left a game before it ended, no matter the score, because the players never quit. I love going to games, win or lose. Ferda!

  3. I saw a couple games pre-covid lockdown and loved it. Have been a season ticket holder since they started back playing. The players on this team are men of great character and heart. You’re right, Grigals quote, “We have no quit in us”, was seen every game, regardless of the challenges they faced with players coming and going, and everything else. I’m excited to see what next season brings.

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