The Gladiators are the ECHL affiliate of the Atlanta Thrashers of the National Hockey League and the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. Chicago is coached by Don Granato, who led Peoria to a 45-20-5 record and the Kelly Cup championship in 1999-2000 after two seasons as head coach and general manager for Columbus. The assistant coach for Chicago is former ECHL player and coach Jason Christie, who was the Most Valuable Player of the Kelly Cup Playoffs in 2000 and head coach of Utah from 2005-08 and Peoria from 2000-05.
The 25-year-old Esner, who attended training camp with Worcester of the AHL, had five points (3g-2a) and 12 penalty minutes in 16 games with South Carolina in 2007-08 before being traded to Pensacola on Dec. 4, 2007 in exchange for defenseman Derrick Byfuglien. Playing only 55 games for the Ice Pilots Esner led the team with 21 goals, 49 points and a plus-minus rating of +2.