Gwinnett Gladiators captain Andy Brandt, who holds the franchise record for games played, has been hired as the team’s new assistant coach after deciding to retire. (Photo: Amanda Hertel)
DULUTH — The Gwinnett Gladiators’ leader in games played is hanging up his jersey.
Andy Brandt, who has been with the organization for the vast majority of his professional career, has retired. But he’s not leaving.
Brandt is being named the team’s new assistant coach today.
“He’s the longest-tenured player in team history so he knows our organization,” Gwinnett president Steve Chapman said. “When you’ve been with us that long, obviously you have a lot of the same values and beliefs.
“It’s a natural progression.”
Brandt came to the Gladiators fresh out of college, joining the team for the end of the 2006-07 season. He played sparingly, but then-head coach Jeff Pyle liked what he did see. Brandt returned to play all 72 games in the regular season and post a career-high 44 points as a rookie in 2007-08.
The Wausau, Wis., native didn’t miss a game in the 2008-09 season for Gwinnett either, but was traded in what Pyle always acknowledged was a difficult decision during the following summer. Brandt went to play for the Victoria Salmon Kings in British Columbia and that season got his first call-ups to the AHL.
Brandt rejoined the Gladiators in 2010-11 and stayed with the organization until he made the decision to retire.
“I knew going into last year it was going to be my last,” Brandt said. “I struggled after the season ended, losing to Cincinnati (in the conference semifinals). I had a couple of thoughts that I wanted to come back to play.
“But after a few weeks, I got over that.”
Even during last season, Brandt was making the transition to coaching. He was hired as the director of hockey for The Cooler in Alpharetta and did that while still playing. Brandt will continue to hold two jobs this year, overseeing the youth hockey program at The Cooler, helping coach it’s U16 and U18 teams while working as the Gladiators assistant.
“It’s definitely a full schedule,” Brandt said with a chuckle.
Always one of the most durable players despite his grinding style, Brandt made it through six full seasons of pro hockey without missing more than a few games due to injury. Which is not to say he wasn’t hurt — he just didn’t miss many games because of it.
Health wasn’t a factor in his decision.
“I was at a point where I was ready to take the next step,” Brandt said. “I’ve always know, since I left the University of Wisconsin, that I wanted to be a coach. I got some great advice from the assistant coach there, Mark Osiecki. He said, ‘Go play if you can. Enjoy it.’
“That advice was 100 percent correct. I’ve had a great career. It’s been a lot of fun. Last year was really a time to enjoy things, knowing it was going to be my last.”
Brandt finished his career having played 468 games — 385 of which were for Gwinnett.
His familiarity with the organization and new head coach Rick Emmett makes for a smooth transition. Emmett, himself a former Gladiator, served as the assistant to John Wroblewski for the last two years. Wroblewski was hired as an assistant in AHL Rochester about a month ago. Emmett was named the new head coach in Gwinnett and Brandt will now take over his responsibilities. Some of that is travel logistics and paperwork on immigration. Some of that is being a sounding board or a second opinion when it comes to systems and practice planning.
“Right now I’m just kind of letting Rick get into it,” Brandt said. “When he asks for help, I’ll be there. It’s his first year as a head coach so anything I can take off his back, I will.
“Rick said it best — the assistant is a buffer between the players and the head coach. The fact that only a handful of guys I’ve played with will be on the team is probably a good thing. It’ll be a good transition.”