DULUTH, Ga. – The Atlanta Gladiators announced on Tuesday, June 18th their first signings of free agency, forwards Derek Nesbitt and Nick Bligh committed to Atlanta for the 2019-20 season.
“This is a good start to the core of our team. I think we are all excited after having talked with all the players and having a lot of returning guys to build with. This will be a huge advantage from where we were at the start of last year.” Head Coach Jeff Pyle stated, “These two guys were our most consistent guys all year long and had great seasons for us. They were leaders for us in every aspect both on and off the ice. Great character guys in the locker room and with the new guys we have coming to fill some of our weak spots from last year I’m excited. Good group already!”
Nesbitt, 37, led the Gladiators in assists (32) and points (50) during the 2018-19 season, while adding to his impressive 14 seasons of professional hockey. The Seaforth, Ontario native began his professional career in the 2005-06 season with the Gwinnett Gladiators after completing four years in Division I NCAA Hockey at Ferris State University. While at Ferris State University, Nesbitt tallied 59 goals and 83 assists for 142 points in 154 games played.
Nesbitt is no stranger to ECHL play, having played 490 games with three clubs (Idaho, Toledo, Atlanta – formerly Gwinnett), winning the ECHL’s Kelly Cup during the 2006-07 season with Idaho. More recently, Nesbitt played in his 900th professional game (AHL – 372 GP, ECHL – 490 GP, EBEL – 53 GP) last season with Atlanta.
“I’m excited to get going. The end of last season wasn’t the outcome we wanted but the young guys got a good taste of the league and what we want to build. I think if you look at us, from January on we we’re really hot and the young guys were bought in on what we believe and excited to come back based on how we began this process of building a culture last season. I think that what we’re doing this season is really exciting and the future is really bright.” states Nesbitt
Nesbitt is the Gladiators All-Time Franchise leader in both goals (133) and points (327), while ranked second in assists (194) behind Brad Schell (246). The 2019-20 season will be Nesbitt’s 15th professional season.
Bligh, 26, returns to Atlanta for his second season with the Gladiators and his fourth professional season. Before beginning his professional career, Bligh spent four seasons playing for NCAA Division I Dartmouth, where he produced 42 points (19 G – 23 A – 42 PTS.) in 96 games.
Bligh made his professional debut in 2016-17 season, playing for ECHL clubs South Carolina, Adirondack, and Indy. During his professional career, Bligh has suited up for 157 ECHL games totaling 106 points. This past season saw Bligh breakout when he joined Atlanta, playing 51 games and registering 44 points (22 G – 22 A – 44 PTS.) good for fourth on the team while playing 11 games less than the next player.
“I think it was a no brainer to resign back in Atlanta. I absolutely love playing for this team. I had one of the most fun seasons playing hockey I’ve ever had. The organization and fans are first class, we had a great team last year and there is definitely unfinished business for the Gladiators this year.” Bligh stated
The Atlanta Gladiators open the 2019-20 season home schedule on October 18th and 19th at the Infinite Energy Arena. Fans can purchase tickets by visiting the team’s website at www.atlantagladiators.com or by calling the front office at (770) – 497 – 5100.
The Atlanta Gladiators are members of the ECHL, the nation’s premier "AA" hockey league. All home games are played at the 9,119-seat Infinite Energy Arena, located just off I-85 on Sugarloaf Parkway in Duluth. The Gladiators have established an unrivaled commitment to excellence, maintaining a distinctive reputation for affordable and family-friendly sports entertainment and are consistently ranked as one of the top “Things To Do” in the Atlanta area and across the North Georgia region.