Gladiators Become Buffalo's Echl Affiliate

DULUTH — The Gwinnett Gladiators signed an affiliation agreement with the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, their second such deal in the last month.

The Gladiators already contracted with Phoenix for the 2011-12 season and now add Buffalo to the mix.

The Coyotes became an affiliate in August and preliminary estimates suggest they will be sending Gwinnett a goaltender, two defensemen and up to four forwards.

Buffalo won't be assigning quite so many players, perhaps as few as one or as many as five, Gwinnett president Steve Chapman said. But he's looking further down the line than just next season with this relationship.

"During the initial search for affiliates, there were a few teams that came into focus and Buffalo was one of those," Chapman said.

The Sabres have eschewed an ECHL affiliate in the past, preferring to scavenge the league for the best players not already under contract with another NHL team. That practice hasn't endeared Buffalo to many of the teams in the ECHL.

"Candidly, people in the league started hating them," Chapman said. "But with the new ownership, from what I've heard, he's interested in developing the organization."

Chapman had talks with the Sabres' general manager Darcy Regier and explained that one of the Gladiators' main focuses has always been on moving players up to the next level.

Gwinnett has fielded 156 call-ups involving 112 players in its eight-year history. At least 22 players have been called up to the AHL in each of the last four seasons, including a record 28 in 2009-10 and 23 last year.

"Having two affiliates could be a challenge," Chapman said. "We could be stocked very well by our affiliates. Gwinnett should have several good prospects, but any of those players can be called up at any time leaving the team short-handed.

"It is a challenge for the die-hard fans to endure the mass call-ups, but that is part of the game and it's good for the prospects. I think we have the leadership in place behind the bench and on the ice to see us through."

Part of the reason the Buffalo deal came together was new head coach John Wroblewski. Hired as just the second coach in team history Aug. 3, Wroblewski spent several years working with Ron Rolston the U.S. national team. Rolston is the coach in Rochester, Buffalo's AHL affiliate.

"That really solidified it," Chapman said.

This is the third time Gwinnett has served as a dual affiliate for NHL teams. The Gladiators ended and eight-year relationship with the Atlanta Thrashers when the team was relocated to Winnipeg. They added Chicago in 2008-09 when the Blackhawks' affiliate in Fresno folded mid-season and Columbus during the 2009-10 season.

"It one of those things that can be a double-edged sword," Chapman said. "The good news is we can be loaded with talent. The bad news is there can be a bunch of injuries and we might be left scrambling."

The Gladiators open training camp on Oct. 1 and start the season on the road Oct. 14 in Florida. The home opener is Oct. 21 against Greenville.

Single game tickets for Gwinnett's 36 home dates at the Arena at Gwinnett Center go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday.