WHEELING - The Gwinnett Gladiators organization got itself a heckuva hockey coach Wednesday, and even more importantly a better person. It was always John Wroblewski's goal to have his own team, but he had no idea it would happen this soon.
Less than a month after the Wheeling Nailers assistant finished runner-up to Matt O'Dette for the Bakersfield job, Wroblewski has been announced as the new man in charge of the Gladiators.
''It's pretty special,'' Wroblewski, 30, said by phone. ''It was a little bit of a disappointment (not getting the Bakersfield job).
''I would really like to thank the Wheeling fans, Rob and Jim Brooks and the Pittsburgh organization for the opportunity, and especially Stan Drulia.''
In a way, though, falling short in Bakersfield was similar to what he experienced this season with a Nailers team that regrouped midseason and advanced as far as the Eastern Conference Finals, where it eventually fell in six games to Kalamazoo.
''As long as you put everything you have into an effort, and even if you don't come out on top, you can take some solace away,'' Wroblewski said. ''All the guys played so hard for the coaching staff. I don't think there was one guy that left anything out there.
''After the season you know you laid it on the line.''
Which is what Wroblewski felt he did in interviewing in Bakersfield. And as they say: one door closes, but another opens.
Nobody would blame Drulia if the news of Wroblewski's departure came as somewhat bittersweet. That's because John's hand in last year's run should not be understated.
Drulia, though, doesn't work that way.
''We're really excited for John. I thought he did a great job here,'' Drulia said. ''John's a smart hockey person and he understands the game.
''I know I learned a lot from him, and I think he learned a few things from me.''
Those are some encouraging words from a man that is well-respected throughout hockey circles of every level.
Wroblewski said that's typical Stan Drulia.
''Stan's an unbelievable guy,'' he said. ''That's just the complimentary person he is.''
Wroblewski is looking forward to putting down some roots somewhat after moving around a bit the last couple years, and certainly after a summer of crisscrossing the country. The weather in January and February will be a nice change, too.
''I hope it doesn't make me soft,'' Wroblewski joked.
The move was unusual, but only for its timing. Wroblewski doesn't have much time to recruit - he says everyone is in the same position - and the Nailers don't have long to find an assistant, though Drulia noted that process has already begun.
One thing Wroblewski wanted to make perfectly clear, though, was he will not recruit any players that he and Drulia had positively identified as good fits for Wheeling.
''We identified a few players mutually and I decided not to go after those guys,'' Wroblewski said. ''That's doubling your competition as things go down the line.
''Wheeling has some awesome things to offer, and so does Gwinnett.''
For his part, Drulia is looking forward to the two having a conversation soon.
''We've exchanged a few texts, but we haven't been able to actually talk,'' said Drulia, who is currently in Wheeling. ''I'm really excited about it.''
The news of Wroblewski's departure completed a hat trick this week for the Wheeling organization. Trainer Jerry Duncan, who has been with the team for the last six seasons, has taken another opportunity with Wheeling Jesuit University, while play-by-play man Alex Reed, who spent only this season in Wheeling, will be introduced at the same position today with the Florida Everblades.
The Nailers organization will find a way to replace the production of that trio, but three finer human beings - and I mean this in all sincerity - you won't find. Congratulations, and best of luck.
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net