DULUTH — The Gwinnett Gladiators underwent a slew of roster changes, but one was far from the normal transaction.
Talented rookie forward Aaron Bendickson had to leave the team to return to the University of Wisconsin.
Bendickson is required to complete two courses for his degree and unless he does it this semester, the cost won't be covered by his scholarship. Originally the classes were going to be offered this summer and Bendickson was going to finish then. But the school canceled those courses and this semester is now the only time Bendickson can take them.
“I can't blame him,” Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle said. “I felt kind of bad for him, most places would help you out (with an alternated solution).
“It's tough to lose him, but I understand. Schooling is way more important than hockey.”
In order to retain Bendickson's rights, Pyle had to officially suspend him from the team today. But it's possible the native Minnesotan could be back this season. And he wants to return next season, too.
“If we can work something out to get him back here once in a while, we will,” Pyle said. “I can bring him back in 45 days. I told him to get settled and then we can maybe start thinking about it.”
Bendickson shares second in scoring on the Gladiators with 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists) in 30 games and already has been called up to the American Hockey League this season, playing seven games for Rochester.
He was also selected to represent Gwinnett at the ECHL All-Star Game in Bakersfield, Calif., on Jan. 26.
Since Bendickson won't be able to attend now, forward Michael Forney was tabbed to take his place. Forney, an Atlanta Thrashers' prospect after being picked in the third round of the 2006 NHL draft, leads the Gladiators with 34 points in 36 games. He began the season with AHL Chicago before being sent to Gwinnett, where he had 26 points in 63 games as a rookie last year.
The Gladiators also lost forward Ian McKenzie, another Thrashers' contracted player, to call-up by AHL Chicago on Wednesday.
“They needed a big body up there,” Pyle said. “He finishes his hits and plays hard.”
Fortunately, Gwinnett had defenseman Matt Duffy assigned to them by AHL Bridgeport. Duffy has appeared in 24 games with Kalamazoo this season, but no games with the Sound Tigers yet.
“I recruited him a little bit last year,” Pyle said.
Duffy ended up signing with Bridgeport and since he's on a AHL contract, Pyle doesn't have to make a trade to acquire the blueliner.
“So that worked out well,” Pyle said.
Duffy may be familiar to Gwinnett fans — he played 52 games for division rival Florida last season and had 14 points in that span. The native of Maine and former Black Bear also played 11 games for AHL Rochester as a rookie.
Coincidentally, the Gladiators play Florida on Saturday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. But first they take their four-game winning streak to Greenville for a date tonight with the league-leading Road Warriors.