Two years ago when the head coach position with the Gwinnett Gladiators came open, former Glads blueliner Rick Emmett was quick to apply for the job. But team president Steve Chapman thought he needed a little bit of time developing his coaching skills at the ECHL level first, and instead gave him an assistant coach position under John Wroblewski.

“Emmer had applied back then”, Chapman recalled recently. “But I told him, ‘I think you have the potential, but I think there are some things you need to learn.’”

However, his development period came to an end last August 7th when Wrobewski departed for the AHL to coach the Rochester Americans. And now Emmett is ready to take the next step in his hockey career by assuming the role of the team’s new bench boss.

“It’s extremely exciting”, Emmett told me regarding being named the organization’s third head coach. “Being a former player, then being able to start my professional coaching career in this organization means a lot to me. This is a really great time.”

During his time in Gwinnett as a player from 2003-06 he scored 24 goals and 43 assists in 149 games. He was a part of the 2005-06 squad that won the American Conference title and played in the Kelly Cup Finals against the Alaska Aces, something he recalls as one of his most memorable experiences during his 11 seasons playing in the ECHL.

“Certainly my last year, making it to the Kelly Cup Finals is a high point for me”, he called. “I really have some fond memories of those teams, were really close knit and we were exciting to watch. I had a fun time playing and to be able to then continue on as a coach (with the Gladiators) is really special and came about at the right point in my career.”

Once he hung up the skates on his professional playing days, Emmett spent his time as a firefighter as well as a coach in the Atlanta Thrashers youth hockey program. But when offered the chance to rejoin his former team behind the bench he jumped at the opportunity. During his time as an assistant coach, the Gladiators played to a record of 84-46-14 and qualified for postseason play both years, following a two year absence from the playoffs. However, each time they have failed to make it past the second round.

“There are a lot of teams in the league who are capable of winning it”, he explained when I asked falling short the past two years in the playoffs. “And sometimes it a lot to do with timing, where the team is in their development. “

“We have a core group of guys that I think have the same dream of winning it and have the same motivation to be a champion. And that’s the kind of attitude that we can build on throughout the season, because the self-motivated teams and the ones that carry that passion into the postseason are the teams that tend to do well.”

One of the challenges facing the new Gwinnett coach is something that affects a lot of organizations at this level, team turnover. The Gladiators affiliate with the NHL Phoenix Coyotes and AHL Portland Pirates and have to wait for those teams to sign then allocate players. In fact, at the time Emmett was named head coach only two players were officially signed to the Gladiators roster. He didn’t want to classify things as a total overhaul or rebuild, but he does understand a certain amount of recruiting needed to take place and the team that takes the ice this fall will have a different look to it than the one that finished up last May.

So what type of squad is it that Emmett looks to coach as the team moves forward?

“High energy, a team that can push the pace of the game”, he was quick to respond. “Very responsible hockey players, players that excel on and off the ice.”

He also understands that this task does come with its issues. But it will be up to him and his coaching staff to meet these challenges and develop the young talent that is brought in, molding them into a winning hockey team.

”I think that going into each season at this level of hockey, the age that some of the players we bring in…with some of the greatness of player talent coming out of the juniors or college…not knowing what the level of expectations are (is a challenge to overcome)”, he said. “And then helping deal with that and dealing with their confidence. Being a coach at this level it’s about helping develop that talent and giving them the leadership that’s going to help them excel.”

“So I think it’s challenging, just to prepare them as best as you can for what to expect to compete in this league.”

And if he and his staff are successful in their task, hockey fans in Gwinnett are going to see an exciting brand of hockey this season and years to come.

“I think the fans going to see a team that can play any style of hockey that’s needed when it’s called for…physical play, and like I mentioned, we’re going to try and push the pace and bring the energy. Ideally everybody’s healthy and offensively we can put the puck in the net and on the other side of the ice we have some size. And we’ve got that young, youthful enthusiasm…guys that are proud of themselves and are ready to assert themselves at this level of hockey.”

“We’re a good team and we’re going to bring high energy and confidence to the game.”

As stated before, Rick Emmitt is quite familiar with youth hockey in the metro Atlanta. And he is pleased with how it how it has responded after losing their NHL franchise in which it had been built around. But it’s now up to the organization he once played for and now coaches to fill the void left by the Thrashers.

“I think all the youth hockey organizations around the Atlanta area are doing a great job today, especially in the wake of the departure of the Thrashers. Of course I was with the Junior Thrashers, which have re-bloomed into the Atlanta Phoenix. And that transition has been a pretty good one. It’s not an easy think for organizations in the area when they lose a major hockey franchise like that but that’s where the Gladiators can step in and help out with that.”

“My boys are still involved in youth hockey and the numbers still seem to be good”, he continued. “And you can see that there’s still a lot of passion for the game here. I think that’s very exciting.”

About The Author

Bill Tiller comes to us from the cyber-sports pages of the AJC.com where he hosted the Iceman Blog for the final four seasons the Thrashers played in Atlanta. He also assumed the thankless position of manning the dark & lonely corner relegated to the Atlanta Thrashers at hockeybuzz.com for the 2009-10 season. Bill takes a very light-hearted, satirical and sometimes irreverent approach to opining about the NHL teams, front offices, players and fans. If you are a self-imposed “Grammer-Nazi” or of the expectation all writers should take a one-size-fits-all cookie-cutter approach to their craft, chances are good this isn’t the place for you. While reading his artiles, if you keep the visual of him sitting at his laptop with is tongue planted firmly in his cheek and the understanding that his smartass gland hyper-developed at a very early age, chances are good you will “get it”. Bill is a resident of the metropolitan Atlanta. He attended Smartass University where he was a proud member of the Ata Mu(n) Pi fraternity and graduated with a BS in Underwater Fire Prevention. He later returned to SaU to earn a PhD in BS.

One Response

  1. Mossy Mossbrooks

    Interesting about the 2 year experience leading to the spot now. Also always support our firefighters. Like the fact Rick went from the ice, to the flames (pun intended) and then to the head ice spot with the Glads. Looking forward to Bill’s next article on Andy Brandt, the new Asst. Coach. :-)