DULUTH - Fresno's loss was Gwinnett's gain Saturday as the Gladiators became the new affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Fresno was the second ECHL team in a month to fold when it ceased operation Tuesday, right before the league went on its holiday break. The Blackhawks needed a spot for their prospects that had been playing with the Falcons.
They called a couple ECHL teams, including Gwinnett, and Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle was agreeable.
"They were just checking around and I think they called us as one of the first teams," Pyle said. "I think it only makes sense because you're getting contracted guys and they're highly motivated. I think they'll like what we've got going on.
"It adds depth. All of a sudden, you're running three power play (units). Now you're not running two lines to death, which is probably part of (our) problem too."
The Gladiators have struggled through the first third of the season and only have two players from NHL affiliate Atlanta. It's the first season since Gwinnett began playing six years ago that the Thrashers have had so few prospects assigned to the Gladiators.
This association with the Blackhawks doesn't negate Gwinnett's relationship with the Thrashers or their American Hockey League affiliate, the Chicago Wolves. Several ECHL teams have two affiliates, including Saturday night's opponent, the Florida Everblades.
But with only Matt Siddall and Myles Stoesz assigned from above, the addition of the Blackhawks' players gives Gwinnett an infusion of up-and-coming talent and more room under the salary cap. ECHL teams are only responsible for a portion of the salary of contracted players sent to them.
"In the end, this seems to be the smartest thing to do," Pyle said.
Two of the Blackhawks' players were already in Gwinnett on Saturday, left wing Adam Berti and defenseman Jean-Claude Sawyer.
Three more were scheduled to fly in late Saturday night - center Adam Hobson, defenseman Brennan Turner and goaltender Joe Fallon.
Hobson, drafted in 2005, played major junior in Spokane, Wash., and turned pro last season. As a rookie, he saw action in 24 games for Pensacola and 25 for AHL Rockford, the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate as a rookie. This year, the centerman has been primarily in Fresno.
Turner, a rookie defenseman, was also part of Chicago's 2005 draft class and went to Yale for three years.
Berti stayed in the AHL for most of his first two pro seasons and even got into two games with the Blackhawks last year.
Sawyer will be familiar to Gwinnett fans, having played most of 2007-08 for Pensacola.
Fallon was a sixth-round pick by Chicago in 2005 and played four seasons at Vermont before turning pro this year. He played 13 games for Fresno with an 8-4-1 record and .911 save percentage. The Minnesota native also appeared in one game for Rockford.
Obviously the addition of five players necessitates some trades by the Gladiators. Pyle may get a player or two in return, but more will have to be for financial or future considerations.
Pyle said he was going to keep three goaltenders for now, anticipating a potential call-up.
"I am going to have to get rid of some guys," Pyle said.
Four to five players on the Gladiators' roster Saturday won't be here on Monday when Gwinnett hosts Mississippi. Those deals were still pending at press time.
Defenseman Ryan Van Buskirk, who was only recently added to fill in for a short bench, was released Saturday morning.