By Mark Simon
Special to NHL.com
Gwinnett Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle has seen hot starts before, but nothing quite as impressive as the one from his current team.
“I don’t know why,” Pyle said, trying to explain an 11-2-1 start for a squad beginning from scratch after relocating from Mobile, Ala., that sat out the 2002-2003 season. “This is the most fun group and the lowest maintenance group I’ve worked with.”
That’s pretty good, considering Pyle is coaching a team that includes 13 rookies. The Gladiators, located in Duluth, a suburb of Atlanta in Gwinnett County, Ga., have an affiliation with the Thrashers that has netted them three solid prospects — forward Anthony Aquino (who had eight points in his first eight games), defenseman Paul Flashe, and second-year goalie Michael Garnett.
Garnett, who went 16-15-3 with a 3.41 goals-against average last season with the Greenville Grrrowl, has been among the most pleasant surprises in the ECHL in the early part of this season. He opened with a 7-1-1 mark and a 1.84 goals-against average.
The soon-to-turn 21-year-old was a third-round pick of the Thrashers in 2001 out of the Western Hockey League, where he played with Red Deer and Saskatoon. Youth and inexperience may have been a factor in his struggles as a rookie, but there’s a big difference in his play now.
“I’m just more relaxed,” said Garnett, who is in the midst of a three-year deal with Atlanta and got a one-day taste of life on an NHL bench at the end of last season. “I’m trying not to worry about anything. I’m not stressing out as much as I did last year, when I was constantly analyzing what I was doing wrong. I wasn’t doing well and I wasn’t having much fun. This year I changed my attitude.”