For the second straight season, the Gwinnett Gladiators are adding an NHL affiliate.
The Gladiators will continue to be the Atlanta Thrashers' ECHL partner and now will act in a similar capacity for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The official announcement is being made today.
Columbus assistant general manager Chris MacFarland said the Blue Jackets had two primary reasons for selecting Gwinnett as their affiliate.
"One, there was a tremendous comfort level with coach Jeff Pyle," MacFarland said. "He's always been upfront. He promotes his players and he's a good developer. It was just a solid, solid comfort level.
"Part two is the Gwinnett ownership. We talked to Atlanta (Thrashers') people who had nothing but good things to say about Jeff and the organization."
Columbus and its AHL club in Syracuse were previously affiliated with Johnstown. But both Columbus and the Colorado Avalanche chose instead to work with teams in the ECHL South Division for 2009-10. Colorado made Charlotte its affiliate.
With only 20 teams in the ECHL this year, many are taking on second NHL partnerships. Last season was a little better with just 23 ECHL franchises in operation.
Fresno's mid-season demise last December provided Gwinnett an opportunity to become the Chicago Blackhawks' affiliate. The Blackhawks opted to share the recently revived Toledo team with division rival Detroit for 2009-10.
Although the hockey world can be a small place, it was a wrong number that forged this link between Gwinnett and Columbus.
Pyle was working earlier this summer to get one of his players a look at the AHL level. He asked that player's agent for a number to reach Portland's head coach, Kevin Dineen.
Instead, the agent mistakenly gave Pyle the number for Pete Dineen, Kevin's brother and a pro scout for the Blue Jackets.
"I felt kind of stupid about it, but we just started talking," Pyle said. "I said I used to play with Ross Yates, the head coach there (in Syracuse)."
Talk turned to affiliations and Dineen suggested Pyle call MacFarland.
"I left a message with Chris," Pyle said. "The summer went on and I didn't really hear anything and I didn't really expect to hear anything. Then out of nowhere he called last week."
They worked out a deal intended to help both clubs in the development and advancement of prospects.
"It gives you more young players and more chances to have guys called up," Pyle said. "I just think it's an up-and-coming organization. They're working with a lot of young kids.
"Atlanta is a good affiliation for us. Columbus will be, too. They are two class organizations, both on their way up I think."
The Gladiators have been partnering with the Thrashers since the franchise relocated to Gwinnett six years ago and will continue to do so. Last year was a bit of an anomaly in that Atlanta only ended up assigning two players (Matt Siddall and Myles Stoesz) for any length of time.
Pyle is expecting to see that number increase this season as more of the Thrashers' draft picks enter the pro ranks.
MacFarland said the Blue Jackets would probably be sending three, possibly four, players to Gwinnett this season.
Atlanta and Columbus are both participating in the Traverse City Prospect Development Tournament from Sept. 6-10. The Thrashers open training camp on Sept. 12 and host Nashville in a pair of prospect games at the Duluth IceForum on Sept. 14-15.
SideBar: ECHL affiliates
In 2009-10, the ECHL will have 20 franchises in operations. The American Hockey League has 29 teams and the NHL has 30 - which means several ECHL teams will have multiple affiliations at the higher levels.
The Gwinnett Gladiators announced Thursday that in addition to their long-standing partnership with the Atlanta Thrashers, they will be the ECHL affiliate for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Here are the 2009-10 ECHL teams with their respective NHL and AHL partners, respectively:
Alaska: St. Louis, Peoria
Bakersfield: Anaheim, AHL to be determined
Charlotte: N.Y. Rangers/Colorado, Hartford/Lake Erie
Cincinnati: Montreal/Nashville, Hamilton/Milwaukee
Elmira: Ottawa, Birmingham
Florida: Carolina/Florida, Albany/Rocheser
Gwinnett: Atlanta/Columbus, Chicago/Syracuse
Idaho: Dallas, Texas (AHL expansion team)
Kalamazoo: Philadelphia/San Jose, Adirondack/Worcester
Las Vegas: Phoenix, San Antonio
Ontario: Los Angeles, Manchester
Reading: Toronto/Boston, Toronto/Providence
South Carolina: Washington, Hershey
Stockton: Edmonton, Springfield
Toledo: Detroit/Chicago, Grand Rapids/Rockford
Trenton: New Jersey, Lowell
Utah: N.Y. Islanders, Bridgeport
Victoria: Vancouver, Manitoba
Wheeling: Pittsburgh, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
(Four NHL teams, all with AHL affiliates, don't have a formal ECHL partner listed. Those are Buffalo/Portland, Calgary/Abbotsford, Minnesota/Houston and Tampa Bay/Norfolk.)