Now the Atlanta area’s only professional hockey team, the Gwinnett Gladiators of the ECHL announced today a new affiliation agreement with the Phoenix Coyotes of the NHL. Let that sink in for a moment.
The Gladiators were formerly the ECHL affiliate of the Atlanta Thrashers, now Winnipeg Jets. As was expected, the sale and relocation of the NHL franchise severed ties between the two teams. Now the Glads have aligned with Phoenix, yet another sunbelt team that is more or less doomed to relocate in coming seasons.
Team president Steve Chapmen expressed exactly why he feels the Coyotes are a good fit:
Brad Treliving [Vice President of Hockey Operations and Assistant General Manager of the Phoenix Coyotes] and I have known each other for a long time. Ray Edwards (head coach, Portland Pirates) was a long-time ECHL player and coach that I have known for years. They both spent considerable time in the ECHL and have a similar background in minor league coaching and administration. They have quality reputations and they have a solid understanding of our place and our importance in this relationship and they value it. We are looking forward to working with them and the other members and coaches of the Coyotes organization, as well as the Portland Pirates, as we seek to develop quality players and quality men.
Still, one can’t help but cringe a little bit at the news, knowing how similar the Coyotes’ sad story is to that of the Thrashers. Will the Gladiators be searching for another NHL team at the end of the 2011-12 season? All evidence currently points to that answer being yes.
The Gladiators were the ECHL affiliate of the Thrashers for eight seasons, starting in 2003-2004. Over that time the team has fielded 156 call-ups involving 112 players. During the 2009-10 season, a franchise record 28 players were called up to the AHL. Twenty-three players were called up this past season.
Phoenix is the fourth NHL organization that Gwinnett has had an affiliation agreement with. In addition to eight seasons with Atlanta, the Gladiators have also maintained dual agreements with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2008-09 and the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2009-10.
From Glads TV, here is an interview with Steve Chapman, discussing the new affiliation:
The Gladiators’ official press release can be found here.