Last-minute infusions: Schell, Esner arrive in time for opener

DULUTH - Brad Schell's arrival in Gwinnett was a welcome surprise this week.

The former ECHL MVP was released by San Antonio of the American Hockey League in time for the Gladiators' 2008-09 season opener.

Head coach Jeff Pyle was also able to add forward Bryan Esner before Saturday's home game against Mississippi at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. Esner was acquired in a trade with Phoenix for goaltender Craig Kowalski on Monday, but Pyle wasn't sure Esner would report to Gwinnett.

According to Pyle, Esner, a Phoenix native, was "crushed" by the news of his trade.

But after several days of talking to Pyle on the phone, Esner was on his way to the Gladiators on Thursday.

"I was on him hard for three days," Pyle said. "I've never been on anybody like that. And I just told him ... if you're going to quit, you quit for the right reasons. If you have a passion for the game and you're on your way up in your career, that's the wrong time to quit."

Pyle likes Esner's speed and talent. The arrival of Esner and Schell is a shot in the arm for the Gladiators, who were expecting to start the season short-handed with Dirk Southern still in AHL Manitoba and AHL affiliate Chicago having yet to send anyone down.

Pyle doesn't expect Schell to be here for long though.

"It was just a shock to tell you the truth," Pyle said of Schell being released by San Antonio. "But it's a big boost."

It was another difficult October for Schell. Last year, he was doing well in training camp with Providence when he suffered a serious back injury. He went home to Saskatchewan and after going through rehabilitation, joined the Gladiators in February.

He racked up 38 points in 29 games despite not being quite 100 percent.

Schell said he took a whole month off once Gwinnett's season ended and was in excellent health as September rolled around again.

"The summer was good," Schell said. "I trained hard and I was injury-free. My back felt good. I went to camp in San Antonio in good shape."

But again, AHL camp proved disappointing. Schell said he thought he played well in a pair of exhibition games for San Antonio, but felt he didn't get much of a shot once the regular season began. The 24-year-old, who played his first three pro seasons under contract with the Atlanta Thrashers, got into just one game for the Rampage.

"But I know that they've got numbers and I know they've got guys under contract," Schell said. "It's tough for a free agent to go in. But it is what it is. So I come back down and I mean, there's 30 other teams up there."

Pyle had conversations with Schell during the offseason and knew he would come to Gwinnett if it didn't work out in the AHL. But he didn't really expect Schell to slip through the cracks and end up in the ECHL.

Schell took it in stride, as usual, and was philosophical after his first practice with Gwinnett on Thursday.

"I'll work hard," Schell said. "That's all that I can do. I'll come down and hopefully have a good start here. I can't control what happens off the ice. I can only control what I do on the ice and how I play. That's going to hopefully dictate where my future lies."