Gladiators set for home debut against Greenville

DULUTH -- The Gwinnett Gladiators came out of its season-opening weekend with two points and some of the kinks worked out.

With no exhibition games, the young team and its new head coach were happy to start on the road in Florida before debuting in front of the home crowd Friday.

"One of the biggest challenges was trying to rid ourselves of some of the summer hockey habits and really acclimating ourselves to the difference between a practice pace and a game pace," coach John Wroblewski said. "I thought while we had some struggles, we answered the bell in a lot of different areas and I was extremely happy to come out of there with two points.

"You always want to have a road mentality anyway. I always like to be able to assert yourself as an aggressive team. When you're on the road, you can have a little more focus on what we're there to do. I'm definitely glad we got a chance to get some things assembled on the road first."

The NHL's Atlanta Thrashers are gone, splitting from the city in a messy divorce, and tonight is the metro area's first chance to see professional hockey this season. It will be the only ticket in town for the foreseeable future.

As unfortunate as that is, the Gladiators aren't letting an opportunity to increase their fanbase pass by. The team, in its ninth season playing in the Arena at Gwinnett Center, are expecting upwards of 7,000 people for today's 7:30 p.m. opener against Greenville.

That number should rise significantly Saturday when they aren't competing with high school football's big night.

Both are sizable crowds for ECHL games and the Gladiators are looking forward to putting an exciting product on the ice.

Wroblewski has promised an aggressive style of play, one that's opportunistic and puts pressure on the puck.

He was pleased with the way the team played last weekend in Florida, splitting a pair of games with what was an unfamiliar opponent.

"We did some really good things" Wroblewski said. "A lot of what we lacked was just some of the detail of execution. We're off by a few feet here and there and it ended up costing us a few scoring chances."

Greenville is less of a mystery.

Wroblewski, as an assistant with Wheeling last year, battled Greenville a seven-game playoff series. And he's already reviewed the Warriors' opening weekend video.

"There are some tendencies they've stuck with and they have some familiar players back," Wroblewski said. "I don't think a lot will change there."

Forward Chris Clackson also has some insight. He played with Greenville for part of last season, his rookie campaign out of Western Michigan.

"I have a good understanding of a couple of the guys and how the coach likes to have his team play," Clackson said. "But I think we're going to be ready for whatever they throw at us.

"Last weekend was an opportunity to see what we had. I think we're happy with a lot of things that happened. Overall, guys came to play and I'm excited to see what we do at home."

The Gladiators have a handful of returning players, but it's a real homecoming for Brad Miller. The forward grew up in Alpharetta after moving from Ontario as an 8-year-old. He left 10 years ago, though, to attend Shattuck-St. Mary's, a boarding school in Minnesota with a tremendous hockey tradition. His family and friends finally get a chance to see him play again today.

"I'm really excited," said Miller, who played most of his first pro season in Trenton last year. "It's been a long time since I played a home game. So it should be fun."

Neither Miller or the rest of the team is concerned about being able to manage their emotions.

"From a team standpoint, it's just another year another opener," Miller said. "We've all been through it dozens of times in junior or college or pro."

Phoenix Coyotes' goalie prospect Marc Cheverie is getting the start tonight. The rotation will continue with Jeff Jakaitis, who held off the Everblades in an 11-round shootout for the win last weekend, between the pipes Saturday.