DULUTH - Old faces and new mingled together during the Gwinnett Gladiators first on-ice training camp session Friday at the IceForum in Duluth.
Some of those faces were particularly happy, including Mike Vigilante, Paul Flache and, yes, former captain Cam Brown. Each man had his reasons for smiling as the two-hour workout concluded.
Vigilante was back in professional hockey after a year's hiatus and clearly enjoying the team atmosphere. Although, to be fair, Vigilante is rarely not smiling. But it was still a good day for the 26-year-old veteran who rejoins the Gladiators after taking last season off to finish some schooling.
"Guys are excited to get back," Vigilante said. "There was a lot of frustration from last year (falling in the league finals) and I think it's been a pretty intense camp so far.
"I was happy. There's a lot of work to be done, but I'm happy with where I'm at."
Flache offered up a smile of his own even as he caught his breath a bit following the practice. Flache, who played most of the last two seasons in the American Hockey League, was just glad to be out of a neck brace and working out again.
The 6-foot-6 defenseman turned forward fractured his C6 vertebrae in a mountain biking accident this summer and only recently got out of the confining brace. Which explains why Flache was a little gassed at the end of practice.
"My head's fine," he said. "I'm just out of shape."
But Flache aims to be ready for opening night two weeks from now and said the first on-ice session went well.
"Guys are trying to get a feel for things," Flache said. "Some of us have been out for a while. Some of us are coming from (AHL) camp so they're a little bit of a step ahead. But overall it went well.
"I think a couple guys are glad to make it through the whole day skating. But it's been good. It's been a long time waiting (for the first day of camp)."
It wasn't a very long break from hockey for Brown, Gwinnett's former captain who retired in June after his 15th professional season. Brown isn't going to play again, but he is the first assistant coach in Gladiators history.
Brown is going to keep working as a superintendent for Pinecrest Custom Homes, but plans to make most practices and home games. He'll travel for weekend road trips when it doesn't conflict with his home life.
"It's the best of both worlds," Brown said. "I couldn't ask for anything better. I didn't realize it would be something I would be interested in doing until I got an offer to go somewhere else and be an assistant coach.
"I was starting to get excited about doing it and then I didn't like the way things were shaping up in that organization."
By then, the Gladiators had heard Brown was considering moving his family to take an assistant job. When Brown opted to stay in Gwinnett, the Gladiators asked if he'd be interested in helping coach the franchise as often as possible.
Brown had to think about that for all of a few seconds.
"I'm excited about it," Brown said. "My only thing now is I haven't had anything to do with the recruiting so a lot of these names are coming back out of the blue to me."
About a dozen of the faces are familiar to Brown and Gwinnett fans, having played here at some point in the last three seasons. Mixed in with those are a staggering 14 rookies, some recruited by head coach Jeff Pyle and other assigned by either of the Gladiators upper-level affiliates in Atlanta (NHL) and Chicago (AHL).
It's a bigger roster than Pyle usually brings in for camp, in part because of those players sent down to him. Friday's workout included 27 players and Pyle may get a couple more filtering down as the AHL season gets under way.
"We're OK," Pyle said. "We've got too many forwards ... but we'll work that out. We've got a really great group of guys.
"This week's fun. Next week will be tough - we'll have to start making cuts - and then after that we go."
Training camp goes through Oct. 19 and features a lone exhibition game at Augusta on Oct. 14 before the 2006-07 season opens at home against South Carolina on Oct. 20.
Training camp roster
Player Pos. Ht. Wt. Last team
Bennefield, Blue RW 6-3 225 Lowell
Bennett, Josh F 6-0 205 Gwinnett
Caruso, Dave G 6-1 215 Ohio State
Collins, Chad G 5-8 175 Fayetteville
Contois, Andy LW 6-1 195 Northern Mich.
Cross, Justin RW 5-10 185 Niagra Univ.
Dobek, Bryan C 5-10 185 Bowling Green
Flache, Paul D 6-6 225 Bridgeport
Fretter, Colton RW 5-11 195 Michigan State
Harris, Randy C 5-10 180 Niagra Univ.
Kaleniecki, Brandon F 5-10 200 Michigan
Kamel, Tito D 6-1 200 U. British Columbia
Lee, Brian D 6-2 205 Norfolk
Mifsud, Scott F 5-9 180 Gwinnett
Milam, Jamie D 6-0 200 Northern Mich.
Mullins, Dave D 6-1 205 St Michael's U.
Mulherin, Bruce LW 6-0 205 Alabama-Huntsville
Nesbitt, Derek F 5-11 185 Gwinnett
Painchaud, Chad LW 6-1 184 Sarnia
Pilkington, Brett C 6-0 200 Bowling Green
Schell, Brad C 6-0 190 Gwinnett
Smyth, Adam RW 6-1 225 Gwinnett
Stepp, Joel C 6-0 210 Gwinnett
Teixeira, Brian C 5-8 180 Gwinnett
Turple, Dan G 6-6 220 Kitchner
Vigilante, Mike RW 6-0 195 Did not play
York, Matt D 6-0 190 Gwinnett