DULUTH - With 331 wins, Gwinnett Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle is on the cusp of a new ECHL record.
A victory in tonight's home game against Pensacola would tie him with Frank Anzalone for third all-time in the league's 20-year history.
Many of Pyle's wins have come in his four and a half seasons with the Gladiators. Pyle, a three-time ECHL All-Star coach, has led Gwinnett to at least 40 wins and a playoff berth in each of its four full seasons here. He took the Gladiators to the conference finals in 2004 and the Kelly Cup finals in 2006.
Wins are good. Pyle will most certainly take as many as he can get. It's his job to win. He knows it.
But there's another number that's more important to Pyle: How many players he's been able to develop and move up to the next level.
In four full seasons, 95 players have worn the black and maroon for Gwinnett. Of that number, nearly half have made it to the American Hockey League. A handful of those have made good on a lifetime of dreams and played in the NHL.
"Probably the most important thing is that we develop guys," Pyle said. "If I'm developing them, then I'm hoping we're better at some point throughout the year here.
"If we play hard and we're good, you never know what you're lineup's going to be. But wins and losses ... I don't know ... we've had five good years here."
Of the 43 players that have been with the Gladiators and seen time in the AHL, 14 were signed outright by Pyle and eventually called up. Another 29 more were assigned by upper-level teams in the AHL and NHL - the vast majority from Gwinnett's affiliates in Chicago and Atlanta, but several were from other teams that believed Pyle could help develop their players.
Those numbers don't include this season, during which 11 guys have played for the Gladiators and at the AHL level. The most recent call-up is forward Derek Nesbitt, who went to Rockford on Dec. 26 and is expected to be there for an extended period of time.
"They told him to get a place (to live)," Pyle said.
Which is a clear indication the IceHogs means to retain Nesbitt's services for a while. Players on short-term assignments are put up in hotels, often for weeks at a time because their future is uncertain.
"So we're doing our job," Pyle said.
Coincidentally, Pyle's coaching counterpart today, Pensacola's John Marks, is on the verge of passing John Brophy for most wins in ECHL history. Marks, who has won the league title twice in his career, already has the record for games coached in the ECHL (953). Entering Thursday's game against one of his former teams, Charlotte, Marks was seven wins shy of Brophy's record 480.
Pensacola, which has struggled this season and occupies the division cellar, plays in Gwinnett again Saturday night.
These are the Gladiators' only two games of the week. With the division standings packed fairly tight - four points separate second-place Gwinnett from fifth place - getting positive results is key.
"The next two weeks, it's important for us to get back in our systems and sharpen up a little bit," Pyle said.
The Gladiators are 5-3-1-1 in their last 10 games, but many of those games were played in a short period of time and with a short bench.
"We've been working hard," Pyle said. "We've made some mistakes, but a lot of that was when we were really tired. I love the effort. But we've got some guys in the lineup I can't count on consistently right now."
With everyone now clear of injured reserve, Pyle has the option of sitting players who aren't performing well. At the end of practice on Wednesday, Pyle made sure the team understood he wouldn't hesitate to do that over the coming weeks.
Note: Goaltender Craig Kowalski was reassigned to the Gladiators on Thursday after playing with Syracuse of the American Hockey League since Dec. 15. Kowalski was 2-1-0 for the Crunch with a shutout in his nearly month-long stint. Prior to his departure, Kowalski earned ECHL Goalie of the Week honors and was 11-3-1 with a .926 save percentage for Gwinnett.
SideBar: Home Stand
· Who: Gwinnett Gladiators vs. Pensacola Ice Pilots
· When: Today-Saturday
· Where: Arena at Gwinnett Center
· Today, 7:35 p.m.
· Saturday, 7:35 p.m.