By Christine Troyke
Gwinnett Daily Post
DULUTH, Ga. – Gwinnett Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle started his recruiting process earlier than ever this year.
Which means the Gladiators’ season was over earlier than ever.
Gwinnett lost in the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the first time in its four-year history, ousted by Texas two weeks ago in the division semifinals.
The one-and-done playoff experience comes just a year after the Gladiators made it all the way to the ECHL’s Kelly Cup Finals. Last season, Pyle started his recruiting later than ever, not until the first part of June. But he doesn’t think that was a factor in the way the 2006-07 season unfolded or ended.
“There might have been a few more (players) I could have contacted,” Pyle said. “But the upper echelon kids are looking for a little bit more than I can offer.
“Some of these kids aren’t smart enough to understand that they’re going to end up in the ECHL. So you’re going to lose certain ones right off the bat because they’re looking for a better deal.”
By that he means offers that include a tryout or a two-way contract with an American Hockey League team – however cosmetic the tryout might be and however unlikely it is that they’ll have a real shot at making the AHL roster.
So if he didn’t miss out on a player, or players, that would have made the difference, what killed the Gladiators’ season?
Certainly mental mistakes took a toll. A sincere commitment to doing what Pyle asked was also regularly part of the post-game discussions in the coach’s office.
But it was also about desire – not enough of the team wanted it enough. Pyle felt there were just too many excuses made by too many players throughout the season.
That as much as anything will affect how he recruits this summer and which players he brings back from last year.
“Free agents are going to be out there for scorers and stuff like that,” Pyle said. “I can look for that later. And we know we’re going to get our guys from Atlanta.
“So all I’m going to do now is just try to get the right kind of mixture, work on getting the guys I’m going to have back for next year signed and just start getting the base together. Then I’ll pick and choose from there.”
“(York) understands the attitude the team had the year before and the attitude it had this year,” Pyle said.
As a rookie, York was part of the team that made it to the 2006 Kelly Cup Finals. He was one of several players that returned to Gwinnett after winning the American Conference championship.
“I told him, that’s where I needed their help to get us out of that,” Pyle said. “That’s what I didn’t think we got from that group of guys that knew.
“That’s where I struggled with it. To me, the whole problem was it was just a team … that found a way to not get it done.”
Last week, just a few days after Gwinnett was ousted in overtime of Game 4 of the division semifinals, Pyle was already putting together lists of players he’d like to talk to about signing with the Gladiators.
He’s called a couple guys from Toledo, which suspended operation for the coming season and subsequently had all its players declared free agents.
“I’m getting all my stuff together for the phone calls to the (college) seniors and the overage juniors,” Pyle said. “What I want to do is get all the names and put them in an order of what I think, are they A recruits, are they B recruits. Because it’s early now and I want to go after certain guys early, try to see if I can get a couple different type of guys.
“I’ll put this year behind me and start going for next year.”