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Vigilante returns to Gladiators after taking last season off

Mike Vigilante isn't exactly sure what to expect when he steps back on the ice for the Gwinnett Gladiators on Oct. 20.

Two things he does expect - adrenaline and a win.

It's that kind of attitude that had Gladiators' head coach Jeff Pyle bringing back the fleet-footed forward without a second thought. Even though Vigilante hasn't played a professional game in more than a year.

Vigilante took last season off to spend time with his family and complete some courses toward his teaching certification. But the 26-year-old is back in black and garnet after playing for Gwinnett from 2003 to 2005.

"I'm telling you, deep down, I'd be pretty upset if we did lose and I didn't bring my best game," Vigilante said. "If you don't bring it every game, you're wasting your time and other people's.

"I'll be ready. I'm not going to waste anyone's time just going through the motions."

The Gladiators announced Vigilante's re-signing on Tuesday and the man with one of the coolest names in hockey became the first Gwinnett player inked for the 2006-07 ECHL season.

"The bottom line is he's the type of player we want," Pyle said. "He's a two-way player that has skill and speed and is very coachable. He's a guy that's been at the next level."

Vigilante returns for his third season with Gwinnett and his fourth under Pyle. He ranks 13th in franchise history in all-time scoring with 105 points and eighth in Gladiators history with 75 points.

After taking last year off, Vigilante could have signed anywhere, no longer restricted by any protected lists or contract rights. But Vigilante is bound by something more compelling than legal mumbo-jumbo.

It's the trust and respect he has for Pyle, who has had a hand in Vigilante's career since the Michigan native came out of college. The feeling is mutual as far as Pyle is concerned.

"He's such a humble kid," Pyle said. "I had him in Mobile (as a rookie in 2001-02). A friend of a friend of a friend said he knew this young kid coming out of the USA program. He told me he was a good skater."

It was the first day of training camp and Pyle said send the kid on down.

"He drove down, got there the next day," Pyle said. "And he was really good."

Vigilante played 66 games for the Mysticks (who would later become the Gladiators) that season and got a look at the AHL level in three games with Springfield. The next season was difficult. Mobile suspended operations in preparation for a move to Gwinnett.

Vigilante played for two ECHL teams, Pensacola and Jackson, that season. Neither was a wonderful situation and when it was over Vigilante considered retiring.

Pyle talked him out of it that and into signing with Mobile's new incarnation in Gwinnett for the inaugural 2003-04 season.

Vigilante played 18 games for the Gladiators and was called up to Portland where he stayed until the Pirates' season ended. The graduate of Lake Superior State got back to Gwinnett just in time to make a trip to Boise, Idaho, for the conference finals.

The Gladiators were soundly beaten by the eventual champion Steelheads, but Vigilante didn't hesitate to come back to Gwinnett the following season. He collected 57 points in 72 games and helped the Gladiators get to the second round of the playoffs.

Many were surprised when Vigilante opted not to play last season.

It wasn't a decision he took lightly and Vigilante never considered it a retirement.

"I had been away from home for eight years playing hockey in college and then professionally," Vigilante said. "And while I loved every minute of it, I missed my family and some of the simple things in life."

Like watching his younger brother John play his final season of major junior hockey.

"Watching John play, going to school, I realized hockey is definitely not out of my system," Vigilante said. "It's fun to coach but doesn't even compare to playing.

"And I think I've got a few good years left in me."

Vigilante, who with his brother teaches hockey camps every summer, talked to Pyle on several occasions last season. A couple of times it even sounded like Vigilante might come back for part of the season. That didn't end up happening, obviously, but Vigilante kept tabs on the team's success and even made the trip from his home in Detroit to Toledo, Ohio, for the conference finals.

"I had to get my hockey fix," Vigilante laughed. "It was good to see everyone again - I wanted to put the jersey on and get back out there (that day).

"Also it was fun to see how far they went."

The Gladiators, who were defeated in the Kelly Cup finals by Alaska, will be without the only captain in team history next season because Cam Brown retired after 15 years of playing professionally. Fellow veteran Rick Emmett is still deciding about whether to return.

So for now Vigilante will be the ranking old-timer (if 26 were actually old, anyway).

"He's been through the lows and didn't even expect the highs," Pyle said. "He's so well grounded.

"I think we'll have talent, but the way we've built ourselves, Vig is the perfect fit for us."

Though Pyle believes Vigilante will have a good chance at an AHL callup this season, it's Gwinnett the 5-foot-11 forward is coming back to.

"I don't know if I would have come back to play again - even if I had great offers from other teams on the table and nothing from Gwinnett," Vigilante said.