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Gladiators hire Wroblewski as new coach

Special Photo. Former Wheeling assistant John Wroblewski was named the Gwinnett Gladiators new head coach Wednesday.

Special Photo. Former Wheeling assistant John Wroblewski was named the Gwinnett Gladiators new head coach Wednesday.

DULUTH -- The Gwinnett Gladiators named John Wroblewski their new head coach, and just second in team history, on Wednesday.

Wroblewski, an assistant with the Wheeling Nailers last year, was chosen from among three finalists following his in-person interview earlier this week.

He replaces Jeff Pyle, who served as Gwinnett's coach for its first eight seasons and the four prior to that when the franchise was in Mobile, Ala. Pyle left to take over the reigns of the AHL's Texas Stars.

"John just rose above everybody," Gladiators' president Steve Chapman said. "His presentation was one of the best I've ever seen in an interview.

"We're excited. I couldn't be happier for Gomer, but I'm also excited to take this new step."

Even before Pyle's departure was announced July 13, the grapevine was humming. More than 50 inquiries were made and Chapman narrowed the search to three candidates late last week.

Wroblewski, former Atlanta Thrashers assistant Steve Weeks and Utah assistant Leigh Mendelson made the short list.

"Honestly, any of our finalists would have been an excellent choice to be our head coach," Chapman said. "They were all impressive and I believe that each one of them has a bright future in professional hockey. The hardest part of the entire process was the act of telling some of these individuals that we had gone with someone else."

After several weeks of phone and email conversations, Wroblewski flew into town to interview and made his presentation. The 30-year-old Wisconsin native addressed the issues he felt might be of concern in a coaching search, including plans for recruiting and implementing systems.

Wroblewski had just finished the interview process with Bakersfield when news of Pyle's departure hit and he sent his resume to the Gladiators.

"Gwinnett is the premier team in our league for a number of reasons," said Wroblewski, who played for Fresno from 2003-07 and is a former captain of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. "I wanted to make sure there was zero doubt as to what I was going to bring to the table.

"I outlined my teaching style as well as how I like my teams to play. The entire process of building your team really starts with having passion."

After years of watching Pyle's aggressive teams, fans shouldn't be jarred by Wroblewski's systems. But it won't be precisely the same.

"(Pyle) did an unbelievable job setting the table in Gwinnett," Wroblewski said. "The opportunity ahead is sometimes you get to the edge of the cliff and you can't get over. You might need a slightly different angle or slightly different voice.

"I respect everything the organization has accomplished and I hope to carry on (Pyle's) legacy."

Wroblewski wants to use a pressuring style of play, one that thrives on turnovers, is opportunistic in transition and pays attention to details. A thorough team -- which is how Chapman described Wroblewski himself.

"His preparedness was exceptional," Chapman said. "His background as an assistant with the national team plays in well to what we want in this league. And he was an assistant in Wheeling, so he's got the experience in the league.

"The X's and O's were exactly what I was looking for. It's aggressive and hard-hitting. It's not dump and chase. It goes after the puck."

Any questions Chapman had about Wroblewski as a first-year head coach were answered.

Wroblewski joined the U.S. national development team as a coach in 2007 and in his final season, Wroblewski helped the Americans win gold at the 2010 under-18 championships. During his stint with Team USA, Wroblewski served as an assistant to 2010-11 AHL coach of the year John Hynes and 2010-11 Calder Cup winning coach Kurt Kleinendorst.

He went on to work with Stan Drulia in Wheeling and the Nailers posted their best finish since 1998 with a trip to the Eastern Conference finals last year.

"The references he had were all people I know or know of, all highly respected," Chapman said. "Everybody's message was the same."

Toby Jeffreys, Gwinnett's majority owner, came in for the final interviews and was on board with Chapman's decision.

"I told Toby, I honestly went into this with eyes wide-open," Chapman said. "But if (Wroblewski's) face-to-face was anything like our discussion via phone, I think you're going to be impressed."

After the interview, Chapman suggested to Jeffreys they take the rest of the day to consider the options.

"Toby said, 'I think you made your decision. I'm with you. Why wait?'" Chapman said.

As soon as the offer was made and accepted, Wroblewski got to work.

"The first order of business was to make sure I got to my favorite agent contacts and let them know I had the job," Wroblewski said. "To make sure their clients are aware, to make sure I locked in the best players."

Not far behind that were calls to family and friends.

As soon as he gets the contact information for the players Pyle already agreed to terms with this summer, Wroblewski will be calling them.

"It's a high priority to get in touch with those guys to gauge their interest and make sure they're committed to a new endeavor," Wroblewski said.

In the midst of all that, Wroblewski will be making the move from West Virginia to Gwinnett.

"It's all things I've planned in my head for the last month and a half (when the Bakersfield job came open)," Wroblewski said. "But I want to thank the Wheeling Nailers and the Pittsburgh Penguins organizations for their tutelage and support throughout the process."