Coach Pyle evaluates the Thrashers ECHL prospects

By Holly Gunning





Interview with Coach Pyle 12-6-03

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Jeff Pyle is the coach of the Gwinnett Gladiators, the
Atlanta Thrashers’ new ECHL affiliate. He has had a good deal of success in Mobile, where the Gladiators franchise was originally located, and has seen seven or eight of the players he has coached move on to the
NHL. Coach Pyle took time out with Hockey’s Future to evaluate the players sent to him by the
Atlanta Thrashers.

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Goaltender Michael Garnett was Atlanta’s third round
pick in the 2001 Entry Draft. He is 21
years old and is in his second year pro. Last year Garnett played for the ECHL
Greenville Grrrowl, the Thrashers former affiliate. Pyle gushed when describing Garnett’s play and what he brings to
the team.

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“I knew he was good, but I didn’t realize he was as good as
he is, as a person and as a player.
We’ve got a good crop of young kids that bring a lot of leadership, and
he’s been one of the most valuable players.
He’s been working on handling the puck, he’s very open to learning as
much as he can. He’s just very upbeat, very calm in the net, just brings a lot
of positive presence both on the ice, and in the locker room, it just kind of
spreads throughout this locker room.”

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Asked to evaluate Garnett’s
strengths and weaknesses, Pyle was at a loss.

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“Weaknesses? I don’t
really think he has a weakness right now.
He’s been so good for us. His confidence is up, his angles are real
good, he’s real solid in his positioning, he’s real quick. He does a lot of
good things. He’s probably got to handle the puck a little bit better, but he’s
going out and doing that, and I’m fine with that. I don’t see a lot of
weaknesses and I just hope he gets a chance at the next level sometime.”

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Winger Anthony Aquino was acquired by the Thrashers
last March from Dallas for a sixth round pick.
Aquino, 21, played 16 games with the Gladiators before being called up
to the AHL Chicago Wolves on December 3rd.

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“Anthony’s a guy with unbelievable speed and skill. I think
he could really be good down the line. He’s a strong go-getter, point guy. He needs to learn systems a little bit
better, learn to be a little more committed to the defensive zone. But if he does commit himself, he’s got
enormous potential at the American Hockey League level. Again, a good kid, we hope he gets an
opportunity. He’s a guy who did a lot
for us while he was here, and now he’s in Chicago and we hope they stay when
they go.”

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Aquino suffered a concussion in a
game against Florida on October 31st and was out of the lineup for
about three weeks. The team was
cautious with him.

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“We had enough guys here at the time that we could just sit
back and let him heal and make sure he was ready to go when he came back. He was great for us before that and good
when he came back, and that’s why he got the opportunity to move up.”

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Defenseman Paul Flache was
drafted by the Thrashers in 2002 in the fifth round, 144th
overall. He is 21 and in his second
year pro.

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“Great kid,” described Pyle. “Last year he didn’t get too
much icetime. I’m a firm believer that you put confidence in kids, let them
play well, and they’ll shine. And he’s done that. He’s a big kid, kind of growing into his body still, 6’6” 230
pounds. He’s winning just about every one on one battle now. He’s getting more
confident, being physical, tough back there. From where he’s come from the
beginning of the season until now, it’s been a huge step I think. He’s been so consistent, and his work ethic.
He’s a great kid.”

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At the beginning of the year Flache was paired with Nielsen,
and now he’s paired with veteran Rick Emmett.
Pyle commented on the change.

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“I thought they were pretty good together, but I wanted
Jimmy Jackson and Nielsen together.
Lefty-righty combination there, they were solid defensively. I put
Flacher with Emmer because Emmer’s an older guy that’ll kind of calm things
down a little bit. Flacher’s still
young. And it gives me a chance to put
Paul against a more physical line.
Jimmy and Evan take the more skill lines, Paul and Emmer take the more
physical lines, and that way I think I’m playing them more to their
strengths.”

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Evan Nielsen is a Thrashers draftee (8th
round, 242nd overall, 2000) who is currently under contract with the
Chicago Wolves. He is still on the
Thrashers reserve list until next summer.

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“Evan does whatever you tell him, he doesn’t complain. He could probably get more powerplay icetime
and doesn’t, but he doesn’t complain about it. He knows his role right
now. He’s a phenomenal solid all-around
defenseman, he’s got good hands, he’s smart, an intelligent player. As a rookie, he and Jim Jackson are our top
defensive pairing, they play against every team’s top line, and do a great job
of it. Again you’ve got a quality kid
who’s good in the locker room, knows his role, does his job and again that’s
why we’re successful as a unit.”

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David
Kaczowka,
a 22-year-old enforcer also on a
Thrashers contract, will likely
return from an offseason ankle injury within a week to ten days, and will be assigned to
the Gladiators. The Thrashers recently
called the Gladiators to make sure there was room for the hard-hitting
Kaczowka, to which Coach Pyle replied, “We’ll make room.”

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“He’ll bring an element to us, and I think with my system
being pretty simple, he might be able to bring us a little more offense than he
normally does, and he’ll add that toughness.
It’s the one thing we might lack a little bit. People know they really have to watch out for this guy.”

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Pyle also commented on how the
affiliation with the Thrashers and the Chicago Wolves is working so far.
He said
that when he was in Mobile, his team was affiliated with Ottawa, “but it wasn’t
the same kind of relationship. Our
relationship with Atlanta and Chicago is so much more solid and positive I
think. The whole situation we have now
is very, very close.”

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