Nashville, Tenn. (June 6, 2023) – Incoming Nashville Predators General Manager Barry Trotz announced today that the team has entered an affiliation agreement with the ECHL’s Atlanta Gladiators. The Gladiators will function as a developmental affiliate for Nashville and its primary developmental affiliate, the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals.
“We are excited to welcome a strong organization in the Atlanta Gladiators to the Predators family as our new ECHL affiliate, extending our developmental pipeline through our longstanding AHL affiliate in Milwaukee,” Predators Assistant General Manager/Director of Hockey Operations Brian Poile said. “The Gladiators have been a model of consistency in the ECHL for more than 25 years and are well positioned to reach new heights on and off the ice under the leadership team of Head Coach Derek Nesbitt; Director of Hockey Operations Jeff Pyle; the ATL Hockey Group led by Alex Campbell and Anson Carter; and Bob Ohrablo. With Nashville just a short drive from the Atlanta area, this partnership will help both franchises continue to expand their presence in the southern professional hockey landscape, and we’re looking forward to seeing our two passionate fanbases cheer each other on.”
The Gladiators play their home games at Gas South Arena in Duluth, Ga., and are entering their 27th season of play in the ECHL. Founded as the Mobile Mysticks (Mobile, Ala.) in 1995, the franchise relocated to Georgia prior to the 2002-03 season and became the Gwinnett Gladiators; to better reflect its connection to the state’s capital, the team rebranded as the Atlanta Gladiators in 2015. The Gladiators have qualified for the ECHL playoffs 10 times since relocating to Georgia, winning three South Division titles (2006, 2012 and 2013) and reaching the Kelly Cup Final in 2006.
Carter, who played 674 career NHL games from 1996-07 and is currently an NHL analyst for TNT, joined the Gladiators as a minority owner in October 2022. Atlanta also announced Tuesday that it has hired Nesbitt – a former Gladiators captain; the franchise’s all-time leader in goals (166), assists (258), points (424) and games played (512); and one of three players to have their jersey retired by the team – as its head coach, with Pyle transitioning into the director of hockey operations role. Nesbitt, who retired following the 2021-22 campaign, spent last season as an assistant coach for Atlanta.
“We are very proud to bring in the Nashville Predators and Milwaukee Admirals as affiliation partners,” Gladiators Majority Owner Alex Campbell said. “With the Predators being the closest NHL team to Gwinnett, we wanted to bring our fans closer than ever to our affiliation partner. I would like to thank Brian Poile and everybody at the Predators for welcoming the Gladiators into the Predators family with open arms, and we cannot wait for what the future holds for both of our esteemed organizations.”
In 2022-23, Atlanta went 35-30-6-1 (77 points), reaching the 30-win mark for the fourth time in its last five full seasons of ECHL play. The season prior, the Gladiators posted a 43-24-4-1 record (91 points) en route to a second-place finish in the South Division, their highest since claiming the division title in 2012-13.
Among the Gladiators alumni who have also played in the NHL include Dallas Stars defenseman Joel Hanley; Calgary Flames goaltender Dan Vladar; former Pittsburgh, Calgary, Vancouver, New Jersey, Tampa Bay and Arizona goaltender Louis Domingue; former Boston goaltender Zane McIntyre; and former Predators goaltender Mike Dunham.
The ECHL is the leading professional developmental league for the American Hockey League and the National Hockey League. The league began in 1988-89 with five teams in three states and now spans nearly coast-to-coast, with 28 teams playing in 22 states and provinces. There have been more than 730 former ECHL players who have gone on to play in the NHL after playing in the ECHL, including current Predators forwards Tommy Novak and Cole Smith and Head Coach Andrew Brunette.