In December 2002, Gwinnett Center General Manager Preston Williams, Tommy Hughes and Duluth Mayor Shirly Lasseter along with Gladiators General Manager Steve Chapman unveil the Gladiators’ new jerseys at the Duluth Winter Wonderland. In February, The Arena at Gwinnett Center, the Gladiator new home, opens its doors to the public for the first time for a self-guided tour of the 11,300-seat facility, and on May 9th, the Gladiators announce their inaugural schedule in the ECHL.
On August 22nd, 2003 the Gladiators sign their first two players, Troy Milam and Phil Lewandowski, both rookies out of Ferris State University. Later that month, Alexis Conrad’s rendition of new Gladiators mascot Maximus wins the Gladiators mascot drawing contest. In October the Gladiators have a busy first training camp as it kicks off with a group of untested rookies and a smattering of veterans. On October 18th, Gwinnett opens its inaugural season on the road in Charlotte. The Gladiators fall behind the Checkers by an early 2-0 score, but battle back and win their first game, 5-3. Cam Brown scores the team’s first ever goal while goaltender Adam Munro records the team’s first win. Six days later, The Arena at Gwinnett Center is packed with 6,457 screaming fans to watch the Gladiators beat the Augusta Lynx, 5-1, in the team’s first home game in Duluth. Jim Jackson scores the Gladiators’ first goal at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
In February 2004, former goaltender Adam Munro becomes the first Gladiators player to sign a contract with an NHL team. Munro signs with the Chicago Blackhawks, joining them for their morning skate the following day. 12 days after signing a contract with the team, Munro steps between the pipes for the Blackhawks. Facing 35 shots, the goaltender carried a shutout against the Nashville Predators into the third period before Scott Walker scored. The teams finished the game tied, 2-2.
In March of their inaugural season, the Gladiators clinch a Central Division Playoff berth. With a dramatic shoot-out win the previous night over the Greensboro Generals coupled with a shootout loss by the Columbus Cottonmouths against the Mississippi Sea Wolves, the Gladiators earn the opportunity to play for the ECHL Kelly Cup in their first season. On April 14th, After splitting the first two games in Mississippi and splitting the two games in Gwinnett, the Central Division Semifinal Series comes down to Game 5 in Biloxi. Mississippi holds onto a 1-0 lead until the 13:02 mark of the third period, when Tyler Deis knots the game at one. Kris Goodjohn’s overtime game winning goal at 7:22 of the extra session propels the Gladiators past the Sea Wolves into the Division Finals against the Louisiana IceGators.
In Game 4 of the Division Finals, the Gladiators trail for much of the contest, but Kris Goodjohn ties the game up at five, early in the third. It was Paul Flache’s game winning tally at 9:03 of the second overtime period that clinched the series as the Gladiators advance to the Western Conference Finals. Trailing in the Western Conference Finals, two games to one, the Gladiators were eliminated in Game 4, by the eventual Kelly Cup Champions, the Idaho Steelheads. With the 5-2 win, the Steelheads advanced to the Kelly Cup Finals against the Florida Everblades, whom they defeated four-games-to-one.
In November of 2004, the Gladiators sell out the evening’s contest against the Mississippi Sea Wolves. The crowd of 11,355 packs the house to watch the team roll over the Sea Wolves 6-1. On December 30th, Captain Cam Brown appears in his 678th career ECHL game to tie the all-time ECHL record for most games played in an ECHL career. Two days later, Brown enjoys breaking the record for most games played in an ECHL career, previously held by Rod Taylor.
In April, at their final regular season home game, the Gladiators host the Stanley Cup, brought over by the Atlanta Thrashers. The Cup appeared in Atlanta for two days as part of the festivities surrounding the first annual Friendship Cup, a youth hockey tournament being held at the Duluth Ice Forum and featuring teams from Atlanta, Florida, Canada, and Russia.
The Gladiators would advance past the first round as the Gladiators clenched the series versus the Sea Wolves with a convincing 3-1 home win, but even Chicago’s last minute reassignment of Ryan Van Buskirk the day before wasn’t enough to help the Gladiators as their season came to an abrupt end with a 3-0 loss to the Charlotte Checkers.
In July of 2005, in his 11th professional year of hockey, Gladiators defenseman, and future head coach, Rick Emmett commits to his third year with the team. In October, Atlanta Thrashers goaltender Michael Garnett becomes the second former Gwinnett Gladiator to appear in an NHL game in the Thrashers' 2-0 loss against the Montreal Canadiens, and then, for the second time in three days, the Gladiators have a second former goaltender make their NHL debut. Having been called up October 13th to fill the gap left by Mike Dunham's injury, Adam Berkhoel gets his first start in net for the Atlanta Thrashers as the team takes on the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Posting only 2 goals in their last three games, all with former Gladiators in net, the Thrashers lost 5-1.
On November 11th, the Gwinnett Gladiators used a sellout crowd of 11,355 and two goals from Steve Slaton to beat the Florida Everblades 5-2 on Friday Night at the Arena at Gwinnett Center to improve to 4-1-1 on the season. The sellout crowd is the third in team history.
In January 2014, the Gwinnett Gladiators announce that goaltender Mike Dunham has been assigned to the Gladiators on a conditioning assignment from their NHL affiliate, the Atlanta Thrashers. Dunham signed with the Atlanta Thrashers as a free agent on September 2, 2005. Dunham was activated off the IR by the Thrashers on Thursday, January 12th after missing Atlanta’s previous 28 games with a groin injury. With Dunham in net, the Gladiators overcame a 2-0 first period deficit to knock off the Inferno 6-2 on Monday afternoon in front of 6,287 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
On February 28th, the Gladiators used two goals from Jon Awe and a shorthanded tally from Jeff Campbell to beat the Pensacola Ice Pilots 3-2 to clinch a 2006 Kelly Cup Playoff berth. Gwinnett improves to 36-11-7 on the season with the win. This date is the earliest the team has even clinched a playoff berth.
Late in March, the Gladiators used three first period goals and a third period goal by Milan Gajic to clinch the ECHL’s South Division and the American Conference regular season title beating the South Carolina Stingrays, 4-3, at the North Charleston Coliseum. Gwinnett improves to 48-14-7 on the season, and had already clinched a first round playoff bye on March 24th. Milan Gajic’s breakaway in the second period proved to be the game winner as Gwinnett defeated South Carolina 3-1 in Game 3 to complete the sweep of the South Carolina Stingrays in the American Conference Semifinals, three-games-to-none. The sweep of the Stingrays was the first time in franchise history that the Gladiators swept a team in a playoff series.
On May 2st, Milan Gajic posted a hat trick for the Gladiators to help Gwinnett beat the Florida Everblades 7-4 in Game 4 of the American Conference South Division Finals and win the best-of-five series 3 games to one. Gajic’s performance follows Joel Stepp’s hat trick in Game 1 of the series, Gwinnett’s first postseason hat trick. Guillame Desbiens would go on to record Gwinnett’s third hat trick on May 5th against Toledo in the American Conference Championship. Scott Mifsud rips a slap shot over the shoulder of Toledo goaltender Logan Koopmans just 2:57 into overtime to clinch the 2006 American Conference Championship for the Gladiators. Gwinnett advances to the Kelly Cup Finals for the first time in team history with the win as they clinch the American Conference Finals series 4 games to 1 over the Toledo Storm.
After suffering through an intense travel schedule that saw the Gladiators spread out in various U.S. cities en route to Alaska, Kimbi Daniels broke a 2-2 tie with less than a minute left in the third period to help the Alaska Aces past the Gwinnett Gladiators 3-2 in Game 1 of the Kelly Cup Finals. With the win, the Aces now lead the Kelly Cup Finals, 1-0. Cam Brown had a goal and two assists to lead the Gwinnett Gladiators past the Alaska Aces 6-1 in Game 4 of the 2006 Kelly Cup Finals. With the win, the Gladiators force Game 5 in Duluth as Alaska leads the best of seven series, 3 games to 1. Matt Riddle ruined Adam Berkhoel’s shutout bid for the Gladiators with a power play goal with 9 seconds left in the third period. On June 1st, the Alaska Aces beat the Gwinnett Gladiators, 4-3, in Game 5 of the Finals to capture the 2006 Kelly Cup.
On January 16th, 2007 Gladiators defenseman Jon Awe sets a new ECHL All-Star Skills Competition record for the fastest shot recording a 102.2 MPH slap shot in the CCM Vector Hardest Shot competition at the Qwest Arena in Boise, Idaho. Awe broke Jaroslav Obsut's record of 99.3 MPH set during the 1999 ECHL All-Star Game in Biloxi, Mississippi. In February, Brad Schell ties the Gladiators all-time team record for most points in a season with his 88th point of the year, helping Gwinnett to a 6-2 win over the Alaska Aces in front of 10,853 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
In March, the Gladiators clinch a berth in the 2007 Kelly Cup Playoffs with a 5-3 win over the South Carolina Stingrays at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. On March 31st, the Gladiators announce that they have signed forward, and future assistant coach, Andy Brandt. Brandt comes to the Gladiators after completing his senior season at the University of Wisconsin. A four time letter winner at UW, Brandt helped the Badgers to the 2005-06 NCAA Championship, defeating Boston College, 2-1.
In April, the Gwinnett Gladiators pushed the Texas Wildcatters to the brink for two consecutive games but couldn’t push their season to another game as they dropped a 2-1 overtime decision in Game 4 of the Division Semifinals. Gwinnett loses the best of five series, 3-games-to-1.
In August, the Gwinnett Gladiators officially unveil their fifth anniversary logo. The logo, which was designed in-house, features the Gladiator sword and the Roman Numeral V in honor of the team’s fifth year. In December, in honor of their 5th season in Gwinnett, the Gladiators commemorate the anniversary by wearing specially designed jerseys at five select home games during the 2007-2008 season.
On January 4, 2008 , former Gladiator Kevin Doell becomes the fifth player in Gwinnett history to advance to the National Hockey League after appearing in the Atlanta Thrashers’ 4-3 loss against the Carolina Hurricanes at Phillips Arena. He appeared in 9:23 of ice time during the game and picked up a hooking penalty during the third period.
In April, the Gwinnett Gladiators season comes to a close with a 2-0 loss to the South Carolina Stingrays in Game 5 of the Division Semifinals at the North Charleston Coliseum. In June, the Gwinnett Gladiators receive top honors from the ECHL at the 2008 ECHL Marketing and Communications Meetings held in Las Vegas. After undergoing a revamp the previous summer, the Gladiators website was named the ECHL Website of the Year for 2007-2008 and took home the all-inclusive honor of the 2007-2008 Team Award of Excellence.
On November 4th, former Gladiators right winger Pat Dwyer becomes the 367th former ECHL player to play in the National Hockey League when he makes his NHL debut with the Carolina Hurricanes in a 6-4 win against Toronto. Dwyer has remained in Carolina through 2014, amassing nearly 350 NHL games played with the team.
In December, the Gwinnett Gladiators move into a tie for third place in the ECHL’s South Division as they knock off the Mississippi Sea Wolves, 9-2 at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum. The nine goals scored by Gwinnett set a new record for most goals in a game in Gladiators history.
On December 19, the Atlanta Thrashers announce that they have recalled former Gwinnett Gladiator Scott Lehman from the Chicago Wolves of the AHL. Lehman appeared in the Thrashers 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He did not register a point in 3:03 of ice time in the contest. One month later, former Gwinnett Gladiators left wing Chris Durno plays in his first National Hockey League game with the Colorado Avalanche.
In April, the Gladiators clinched a berth in the 2009 Kelly Cup Playoffs with a 3-0 win over the Charlotte Checkers on Saturday, April 4th at the Time Warner Cable Arena. Joe Fallon notched the first shutout of the season in the win for Gwinnett making 32 saves. On April 19, the Florida Everblades advance past the Gladiators in the South Division Semifinals by winning Game 5, 2-1, and taking the best-of-seven series, 4-games-to-1.
In August, the Gwinnett Gladiators announce that they have signed an affiliation agreement with the Columbus Blue Jackets of the National Hockey League and the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League. The team continues as the ECHL Affiliate of the Atlanta Thrashers as well.
In December, the Gwinnett Gladiators and the ECHL announce that former Gladiators captain and Left Winger Cam Brown has been named an inductee into the ECHL Hall of Fame, Class of 2010. Brown becomes the first Hall of Fame inductee from the Gladiators organization. He is selected by the ECHL Hall of Fame Selection Committee in his first year of eligibility for the honor.
On March 20th, 2010, the Gladiators sign Major League Baseball legend and former Atlanta Brave Tom Glavine as an honorary member of the team in support of Keep Georgia Safe. Glavine warmed up with the team and took a ceremonial opening face-off before remaining on the bench for much of the first period on a night when the Gladiators beat the Trenton Devils, 6-4. On March 30th, The Gladiators are officially eliminated from the playoffs for the first time in the team’s seven-year history after falling in overtime to the Charlotte Checkers by a score of 2-1.
On Ocotber 4th, Future Dallas Star Ryan Garbutt is added to Gwinnett’s training camp roster after being released by the Chicago Wolves. Garbutt will play in 10 games for the Gladiators before rejoining the Wolves for the remainder of the year. The next season, the Winnipeg native will be moved to the Texas Stars, eventually getting called up to Dallas, where he remains to this day.
Early in April 2011, the season came to an end with a 7-2 loss to the Greenville Road Warriors at the BI-LO Center. The Gladiators finish out the season with a record of 30-34-3-5 for 68 points, missing the playoffs by six points for the second straight season.
On June 1st, Gladiators President and GM Steve Chapman announces that the team will remain in Gwinnett County despite the imminent sale of the Atlanta Thrashers to an ownership group in Manitoba. His statement expands upon the three year lease renewal with the Arena at Gwinnett Center that was announced on May 10th.
In July, the only head coach in Gwinnett Gladiators history up to this point, Jeff Pyle, departs after eight seasons at the helm in Duluth and another four while the franchise was in Mobile, AL. The Texas Stars of the AHL simultaneously announce that Pyle has agreed to become the head coach of their team - a post he will hold onto until the end of the upcoming season. After a nearly month long search, Wheeling Nailers assistant coach John Wroblewski is named the second head coach in Gwinnett Gladiators history. Wroblewski spent one year as the assistant coach in Wheeling following a four year professional playing career with the Fresno Falcons.
In August, the Gladiators officially announce their new primary NHL affiliation with the Phoenix Coyotes and their AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates. Gwinnett dropped their affiliation with the Atlanta Thrashers organization shortly before the team relocated to Winnipeg, MAN in June. One month later, the Buffalo Sabres are added as a second affiliate for the Gladiators. Gwinnett will now work with the Rochester Americans of the AHL to train players from the Sabres organization.
On February 3rd, 2012, Gladiators alternate captain Andy Brandt plays in his 263rd career game with the team, setting a new longevity record with the squad. The team goes on to shutout the Road Warriors that night at the Arena, 3-0. Later that month, former Gladiator Ryan Garbutt makes his NHL debut for the Dallas Stars after starting the season with the Texas Stars. Garbutt racked up ten goals and seven assists in just ten games with the Gladiators the previous season.
On March 17th, donning special St. Patrick’s Day-themed green jerseys, the Gladiators clinch a playoff berth for the first time in two seasons by scoring three unanswered goals on the Road Warriors and winning 4-3 in the regular season home finale. Later that month, riding Marc Cheverie’s 30-save shutout, the Gladiators clinch the South Division title when they defeat the Everblades in Estero, 2-0.
At the begining of April, John Wroblewski is recognized for his role in dramatically turning the Gladiators around by receiving the John Brophy Award as the ECHL Coach of the Year, an honor he shares with Rob Murray of the Alaska Aces. In his first year with the team, Wroblewski led the squad to a 41-20-7-4 record (93 pts), a South Division championship, a second place finish in the East, and a playoff berth after missing the goal the last two seasons. He was also named to the All-ECHL First team on March 29th.
On April 6th – and 7th - the Gladiators participate in the second longest ECHL game in history, but drop a heartbreaking 4-3 playoff game to the Stingrays in the fourth overtime at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. Zach Tarkir breaks the deadlock 12 minutes after midnight, and four minutes into 4OT, two minutes shy of the all-time record of 126 minutes and 10 seconds. Both goaltenders play all 124:19 – Marc Cheverie makes 44 saves on 48 shots, while Rob Madore makes 54 saves on 57 shots. South Carolina takes a 2-1 series lead in the best-of-five. On day later, and for the second straight game, the Gladiators lose an emotional multi-OT game, but this time their season is over when they fall 4-3 to the Stingrays in 2OT.
In June, the Gladiators front office is awarded with the 2011-12 Marketing Award of Excellence at the annual ECHL Sales and Marketing Meetings in Las Vegas. The team wins the award for their successful “Atlanta’s One And Only” campaign.
In September, kicking off a year-long celebration of a decade in Gwinnett County, the Gladiators unveil two special ten year anniversary logos. One is a stylized number ten with the Gladiator head logo inside the zero, featuring the years of operation of the team (2003 to 2013) in Roman numerals along the side. The secondary logo harkens back to the Gladiators’ fifth anniversary logo with its use of the Roman numeral ‘X’ signifying ten years in Duluth. On October 9th, in another nod to their tenth season in Gwinnett, the Gladiators unveil their new maroon alternate jersey, to be worn at home during opening weekend and in the second half of the season. The design is inspired by the team’s NHL affiliate, the Phoenix Coyotes, with its maroon color, white stripes, and vintage lace-up collar.
On January 30th, former Gladiator Matt Anderson makes his NHL debut for the New Jersey Devils. Anderson had 14 goals and 14 assists in 37 regular season games with Gwinnett in 2007-08 before adding three goals and two assists in the playoffs.
Twenty days later, during the first intermission of the Gladiators’ 6-5 win over the Evansville IceMen, the team unveiled their “10th Anniversary Team,” as voted by the fans on gwinnettgladiators.com. On the “Starting Lineup,” were forwards Cam Brown, Jeff Campbell, Andy Brandt; defensemen Jim Jackson, Troy Milam; goaltender Sean Fields. On the “Reserves” side were forwards Mike Vigilante, Derek Nesbitt, Guillaume Desbiens, Chris Durno, Brad Schell, Scott Mifsud, Kevin Doell, Tyler Murovich; defensemen Paul Flache, Rick Emmett, Jon Awe, Cody Brookwell, Dallas Jackson; goaltender Adam Berkhoel.
During the first round of the playoffs, the Gladiators make quick work of their South Division rivals, sweeping the Stingrays in four games in the first round of the ECHL playoffs and avenging last season’s series loss to the same team. The sweep is Gwinnet’s third in history, and first since the 2008 first round sweep of the Charlotte Checkers. However, on April 30th, Gwinnett’s season comes to another premature end as the Cincinnati Cyclones topple the Gladiators in Game 6 of the best-of-seven series, 5-3. Game 6 was originally slated for the Arena at Gwinnett Center, but due to a scheduling conflict, the game was relocated to the Cyclones’ home rink, US Bank Arena.
On August 7th, former Gladiators defenseman and assistant coach Rick Emmett is named the third head coach in Gwinnett Gladiators history after current head coach John Wroblewski announces he has accepted an assistant coaching position with the AHL’s Rochester Americans. One month later, Andy Brandt retires from professional hockey and announces he will become the new Gladiators Assistant Coach.
Returning to The Arena at Gwinnett Center after a lengthy six-game road trip in March, the Gladiators were happy to return to home ice as they welcomed 13-year-old superfan Connor McMahon as their APIVEO Player of the Month for March. To celebrate his birthday, Connor suited up in his goaltending gear and participated in a full ice practice, getting tips from Coach Emmett and goaltender Mark Guggenberger, facing shots from Gladiators players, and then enjoying birthday cake with all involved afterwards. Atlanta CBS affiliate CBS-46 was on hand to document the day and interview the birthday boy.
On April 12th, despite missing the playoffs for only their third time in history, the Gladiators closed out the season with a bang, shutting out the Elmira Jackals, 7-0 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. Brenden Walker notched the team’s first hat trick of the year, and bookended the year by scoring the final goal of the season after scoring the season’s first. Mark Guggenberger stopped all 21 shots he faced, while Casey Pierro-Zabotel finished with two goals and two assists.
Midway through his second season as an Assistant Coach with the Gladiators, Brandt was named Interim Head Coach on December 2nd, 2014 and would finish the season as Head Coach for the remaining 55 games. Brandt was joined by Mike Flannigan who was named the Gladiators’ fourth assistant coach in team history on December 31, 2014. Flannigan brought much experience to the coaching staff with an AHL Calder Cup Championship as an AC with the Norfolk Admirals (2011-12) and a Coppa Italia Title with the Valpellice Bulldogs as a Head Coach (2012-13).
From a player standpoint, the Gladiators saw two players make the climb to the NHL in 14-15. Former Glads Goaltenders Mike Lee and Louis Domingue would made their NHL debuts in January 2015. Domingue would pick up his first win on February 1st in his first start in his hometown of Montreal. The netminder and local fan favorite became the first Gladiator in six seasons to reach the NHL in the same season as his time in Gwinnett. He would go on to make seven appearances in all for the Coyotes, and re-signed with the NHL club in September of 2015.
Despite the final record being (20-45-3-4), Brandt led the team to success late in the season, after a trade deadline day roster overhaul. The squad would pick up at least a point in three of their final five games and eight of the final 12 games of the season were determined by just one goal. This included winning their final game at home on the season in a thrilling overtime victory. The Gladiators made a spectacular comeback in front of their home crowd one last time, to take the overtime win against the Evansville IceMen, 3-2. Fan favorite Tyler Murovich scored the game-winning goal and tallied an assist, while Dan O’Donoghue and Mike Merrifield both added goals as the Gladiators scored three unanswered goals in the third and overtime to get the win.