DULUTH, GA – The Atlanta Gladiators announced their first re-signing of the 2020-2021 ECHL season today, as the team revealed forward and team captain Derek Nesbitt would return for his ninth season with the organization.
“He had another good year (last season) and he is growing in every aspect of his game,” Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle noted. “He is learning every day to expand his leadership qualities and his understanding of how valuable it is to send the message of the coach.”
Nesbitt is a 38-year-old ECHL veteran from Seaforth, Ontario. He played at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan before joining the Gladiators for the first time in 2005. He compiled a 69-point rookie season that helped carry the organization to the Kelly Cup Finals in the summer of 2006.
Coach Pyle spoke to Nesbitt’s image as the face of the Gladiators: “He represents our organization with class and character. His work ethic, commitment to the game, and ability to absorb and learn are his strengths.”
The forward has played in 597 ECHL games (including playoffs) in his career, with 468 coming in a Gladiators sweater. He has tallied 148 goals with Atlanta, including his 300th professional goal in January of this year. Derek also has extensive experience outside of the ECHL, playing in 372 games at the AHL level and 53 games overseas with Italian club HC Bolzano.
Nesbitt shared the organization’s enthusiasm about his return. Derek noted that, like many, he “can’t wait to get back to playing hockey again.” He spoke to the comradery that was forged in the locker room in the latter stages of the 2019-2020 season, saying “we need to use that to fuel us, carry it into the culture we create for the new guys coming on board, and build on it.”
“We did not overachieve down the stretch,” he continued about last season. “We underachieved early in the season, and no one thought that was acceptable.” Nesbitt’s role as the undeniable leader is pushing him to recreate the feeling of brotherhood in the locker room when hockey returns. “If we all buy in from day one and play for the guy next to us, we will be successful as a group and as individuals.”
The veteran also began a coaching career at the Atlanta IceForum earlier this year, as he was named one of the Directors of Youth Hockey. Derek currently lives in the metro Atlanta area with his wife Whitney, his one-year-old son Declan, and their two beagles.
Gladiators team president Jerry James praised Nesbitt’s presence within the team, saying Derek “has been a consummate professional since he first joined our organization in 2005. His prolonged success on the ice is only overshadowed by his unquestioned leadership in the locker room and proactive community involvement.”
“It has been, and will continue to be, a privilege to call him the captain of the Atlanta Gladiators.”