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Gladiators open ninth season with high-energy rookie head coach

DULUTH -- Players cascaded off the ice less than an hour into the last day of training camp.

Head coach John Wroblewski, skates still on, jogged to his temporary home at the IceForum and jogged back out holding his laptop.

"Video," he said. "Then we're back on the ice."

Wroblewski spent 15 minutes running through the footage while the ice was resurfaced. Afterward, the players trooped back out for another 30 minutes of on-ice work.

It's a new era and a new system for the Gwinnett Gladiators.

After eight years under Jeff Pyle, a new regime is in place.

Wroblewski was hired in August to take over for Pyle, who led the franchise to six playoff appearances during his tenure. The 30-year-old from Wisconsin is a former captain of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and was an assistant to Stan Drulia in Wheeling last season.

Now it's his turn to lead and he's not leaving much to chance.

Wroblewski was clear in his mission statement from the outset. He wants to pressure the puck, be opportunistic and capitalize on turnovers.

Most of all, he wants a team that pays attention to the details.

That means watching video. A lot of it. Sometimes that means watching video in the middle of practice.

"Video points things out," alternate captain and veteran forward Andy Brandt said. "It's right there and everyone sees it. It's not to embarrass anybody. It's just to make everybody realize what their jobs are. That's part of being a professional. That's part of being held accountable for when you do something wrong."

Throughout training camp, which ended Wednesday as the team prepared to travel to Florida for Friday's season opener, Wroblewski showed video and ran through the day's drills before the team hit the ice.

"Watching video is tough in hockey because there are so many turnovers," returning forward Justin Milo said. "You feel like you're skating hard, but then on video, it looks like you're not even skating. So it definitely holds you accountable. Hopefully we don't get too critical, but at the same time, watching video will help correct mistakes."

In a fast-paced game, with bodies crossing lines of vision, it's often not obvious where things went right. Or wrong.

On video, it is.

"Sometimes you don't notice what happened three plays before," Wroblewski said. "We want to make sure we're paying special notice to every single reason why we either gain that momentum or why we lost it in the particular case."

Video slows the game down. That's about the only time Wroblewski wants to slow things down.

"Coach Wroblewski is kind of new-school," Milo said. "He's a younger guy that wants us to play a different style of game and maybe a little more speed. There are a lot of ways you can play hockey. This is slightly different but it's a good change of pace for us."

The Gladiators have missed the playoffs for the last two years, but not by much and in great part because they were successful at sending players up to the AHL.

That doesn't change the fact that everyone -- players, fans, management -- would like to see the team return to the league's upper echelon.

The start of the season always brings optimism and excitement. But there's an added dimension with the Wroblewski era beginning.

"We've got a new guy that demands a lot of us and we've got to show him, each and every one of us, if we're a veteran or a rookie, that we can play and we can be successful," Milo said.

"He's a real intense guy. He likes to have fun, but when he shows us what to do or gives us an example on the ice and he's going 100 mph, it kind of shows us this guy is into it and we've got to be into it, too.

His personality, like his style of play, is high energy.

"He's a passionate guy and you could see that in the way he prepares us every single day," Brandt said. "We go through a pretty good schedule of video and he does a lot of explaining and a lot of pointing things out. Which is great. You know what he expects.

"There's not a lot of gray there. It's pretty much black and white with what he wants us to do."

Wroblewski, who was an assistant with the national development team before taking the job in Wheeling, definitely leans toward the positive perspective. He, literally, pats guys on the back in practice and doesn't make any bones about his outlook.

"There's no question that you have to put a positive spin on everything," Wroblewski said. "While I remain positive, I demand an extremely high level of output from these guys. I think it's all about how you challenge them. That's how you get the most out of a guy. There's a number of different ways you can go about doing that. For me, I'm always somebody who wants to get the job done together.

"So for us to be a good team and for me to be a good leader, we're in this thing together. I want each and every one of those guys to know I care for them. The only reason I demand what I demand from them is to get the most out of them."

If he has occasion to deviate from that, it won't be without clear cause.

"There's always a warning for something," Wroblewski said. "This is why we do it and this is the reason for it. Once that challenge is laid out, I expect that challenge to be answered. If it's not, then we have issues."Or if the effort is lacking.

"As long as we're working hard and there's effort, then we won't have issues we can't work through," he said. "If we lose effort or if that's ever in question, then there will be serious issues."

So far that hasn't been a problem.

"There've been a lot of guys who've shown that they can compete at a high level, with a fair amount of skill as well," Wroblewski said. "We've really honed that competitive nature these two weeks."

After an in-team scrimmage Monday and two more days of training camp, the team boarded a bus Wednesday for Florida, where they'll have to prove they've learned from Wroblewski's lessons.

"I like his style a lot," said forward Pat Galivan, who has been in Gwinnett for the better part of the last two seasons. "It's up-tempo, you have to play smart hockey. You have to know what's going on in every situation you're in. We're going to be a hard, tough team to play against. Strong in the 'D' zone, strong on the forecheck. I think we're also going to be a really well-conditioned team.

"The season ended on a bad note the last year -- actually the last two years -- down here so guys that have been around I'm sure are anxious to prove that we can make a push for the Kelly Cup."