Rick Emmett, right, is replacing John Wroblewski as head coach of the Gwinnett Gladiators after two seasons as an assistant. Wroblewski was hired as an assistant in AHL Rochester. (Photo: Gwinnett Gladiators)
DULUTH — The Gwinnett Gladiators will have a new coach for just the third time, but their second in the last three years.
Head coach John Wroblewski has been hired as an assistant with AHL Rochester.
His assistant, and former Gladiators defenseman, Rick Emmett will replace him.
Gwinnett was under the command of Jeff Pyle for its first eight seasons before he left to take over the reins of the Texas Stars in the AHL.
Wroblewski was hired in the summer of 2011 and guided the Gladiators to a 84-46-14 regular-season record over the next two years. The team made the playoffs both seasons — after a two-year absence — but only got as far as the second round.
Emmett has been the assistant coach since Wroblewski took over, returning to the franchise where he played the final three years of his career.
“Honestly, that’s why I set it up that way,” Gwinnett president Steve Chapman said. “When I hired Wrobs, I was pretty confident he was only going to be here for three years at the most. Emmer had applied back then but I told him, ‘I think you have the potential, but I think there are some things you need to learn.’
“A lot if it he knew from playing here, but I think now he’s perfectly prepared for it. I wanted to put somebody in place, were this to happen, that could slide right in.”
Emmett played for the Gladiators from 2003-06 and helped Gwinnett to the 2006 American Conference championship. In 149 career games with the franchise, Emmett earned 67 points (24 goals, 43 assists) as a defenseman.
The Etobicoke, Ontario, native played 11 professional seasons in the ECHL, IHL and the UHL. In five seasons with the Quad City Mallards of the United Hockey League from 1996-2001, Emmett helped the team capture the Colonial Hockey League championship in 1997 and the United Hockey League championship in 1998.
He retired from playing in 2006 and spent time as a youth hockey coach and firefighter before returning to the Gladiators.
“I’m definitely excited,” Emmett said. “Obviously being behind the scenes for a couple of years, you get the idea of what needs to be done. John had a lot of control over hockey operations so the details of it all will be a learning experience, but I don’t think anything will take me by surprise.”
Right now, only two players are officially on Gwinnett’s roster, leaving Emmett with a fair amount of work to do before the start of training camp in October.
The team is expecting to get two goalies and several forwards from its NHL affiliate in Phoenix, an agreement just renewed officially last week, but there are still quite a few spots to fill.
“Since we agreed on it last week, we’re trying to sort through it now,” Emmett said. “We don’t have a lot of returning guys. We’re pretty thin compared to last year.”
The team had to honor the completion of some trades from the season and several players opted to go overseas or retire.
“Definitely recruiting has to be done at this level,” Emmett said. “I don’t know at what number it’s an overhaul, but we might be there.”
The job starts now, putting together a team Emmett wants to build.
“The affiliation gets first dibs and then we fill in the pieces around that,” Emmett said. “Those numbers always change and you just have to be ready for that.”
The Gladiator nation might have fretted some in recent weeks with so few signings announced. But other contracts are in the process of being finalized and often players don’t make decisions until now with the hope of getting an AHL deal.
“Even now, the core guys you would want to build your team around, they’re not making decisions until this week or next,” Emmett said. “There are a lot of good hockey players out there waiting on the next level.
“We’re working on finding those other pieces with the young guys. John is still very active and aware of our recruiting situation.”
Wroblewski was keen on an up-tempo, aggressive style of hockey and it served the team well during his tenure.
Emmett, a defensive defenseman in his playing days, plans to continue that whenever possible.
“I don’t think anyone is reinventing the wheel (with systems),” Emmett said. “The trick is to get players to do it on a regular basis. Definitely, there will be pressure in all areas of the ice. We want to maintain control by possession.
“The nature of the league, with injuries and call-ups, you have to be a little simpler at times. But definitely when we have our full lineup, we’re going to be in your face, high-tempo. Otherwise, we’ll adjust accordingly.”