DULUTH - The Gwinnett Gladiators announced their first player signing for the 2007-08 ECHL season Tuesday and he's captain material.
Fleet-footed veteran forward Mike Vigilante has agreed to return to Gwinnett for another season. Head coach Jeff Pyle said re-signing Vigilante, who had a career year with 25 goals and 40 assists last season, was a no-brainer.
He also said he was looking at the 27-year-old as a potential captain. Vigilante was an assistant captain last year and Pyle's only hesitation was that Vigilante might be in the American Hockey League.
"Because he's going to Manitoba's regular camp," Pyle said. "I think Manitoba's really interested in him. The only thing is his age may stop him (from being signed). But what a great call-up guy.
"And if they see enough in him where they decide to sign him, and it looks like a legitimate thing, then it makes sense for Vig to lock in. I'm signing him with the idea that he's not going to be here."
Vigilante, speaking from his home in the Detroit area, was excited about the opportunity to get back to the AHL where he spent most of the 2003-04 season after playing 18 games of the Gladiators' inaugural campaign.
"I feel like I'm 20, 21 going to an NHL camp," Vigilante said.
Vigilante, who started his professional career in 2001 playing for Pyle in Mobile, Ala., talked to Manitoba's general manager not long after Gwinnett's season came to an abrupt end in the first round of the playoffs.
"I'm going there to make the team, obviously," said Vigilante, who with his two brothers coaches kids hockey camps each summer.
But if that doesn't happen, Vigilante knew the only place he wanted to play in the ECHL was Gwinnett.
"I really enjoy it down there and I enjoy playing for Jeff," the Michigan native said. "The whole organization, from top to bottom, they've treated me well since Mobile.
"It really is my home away from home."
Vigilante played collegiately at Lake Superior State before his rookie season with Pyle and the Mobile Mysticks. He got called up to Springfield of the AHL for three games that year, but bounced around a bit in his sophomore season. Mobile was dormant that year, in preparation for its move to Gwinnett.
Vigilante was dissatisfied enough with that season in Pensacola and Jackson to consider hanging up his skates.
Pyle talked him into coming to play for the Gladiators and it was less than six weeks before Vigilante was called up to Portland, where he spent the rest of the regular season. When Portland's playoff run ended, Vigilante returned to Gwinnett just in time for the Gladiators' final game of the season - a loss in the conference finals to eventual champion Idaho.
Vigilante came back to Gwinnett the following year and played all 72 games. But he decided to take the 2005-06 season off in order to focus on his teaching certification and spend more time with his family. It was the year the Gladiators made it to the Kelly Cup finals and Vigilante drove down to Toledo, Ohio, to see Gwinnett win the conference title.
"I'm at a point now where the year I took off made me appreciate the game so much more," Vigilante said.
He signed with the Gladiators again last summer, though after a full year out of the ECHL he had the option to play for any team in the league. Vigilante finished as the fourth-leading scorer on a team that featured some staggeringly good point-getters. He trailed only Brad Schell, who won the ECHL scoring title with 110 points, Scott Mifsud, who was second in the league with 94 points, and ECHL Rookie of the Year, Colton Fretter.
Vigilante played every game for Gwinnett last season.
"I never hit the wall last season," he said. "And I've learned to appreciate the chance to play.
"The fuel still burns. There's not a better job in the world."
Vigilante said he hasn't talked with Pyle about the captain issue, but would be honored to wear the 'C'.
"A captain needs to be a good player on the ice and also maintain control in the locker room and be just a team player that gets along with everyone," Vigilante said. "There's a lot of guys that can fill that void.
"I enjoyed wearing the 'A.' When it comes to being a young team, you need to set an example."
Vigilante is fairly soft-spoken, but is as steady and likable as they come. He is driven to win, and no one is going to outwork him, which makes him a good candidate for captain - as long as he's here.