"We came to the organization's first-ever open house and bought season tickets then," said Kathy Pessalono, a Pittsburgh transplant whose seats are behind the goaltender.
"Gwinnett Arena is a wonderful place to watch hockey. You can see how enthusiastic the fans are every time the Gladiators do well.
"My husband and I started off being Pittsburgh Penguins fans. Then we became fans of the Atlanta Flames and then the Atlanta Knights. Now, we are Gwinnett Gladiator fans."
The same could be said of [Karen] Viskocil, who sits right behind the Pessalonos. Except she cheered for the Blackhawks while living in Chicago.
"I've always loved hockey, and I, too, have been a fan of the Gladiators since day one," said the grandmother of two boys — Dylan, 11, and Michael, 9 — who play hockey on a team based at the Ice Forum in Duluth.
"I bought season tickets because I wanted to support the Gladiators' family. The players have always been very nice and personable.
"From the very beginning, I've been doing a scrapbook for Mike Vigilante. I have all the respect for coach [Jeff] Pyle, Steve Chapman and [assistant coach] Cam Brown. The coaches, the players — all are gentlemen and great role models for the kids."
My passion for ice hockey was born watching the Erie Blades, who played in the minor league that inspired first the Nancy Dowd book and then the movie Slap Shot. With apologies to Steelers Nation, nothing captures the demise of the Industrial Heartland like the development of hockey hotbeds in the Sun Belt. Come to think of it, Slap Shot should be the official movie of the Burgh Diaspora.
Regarding the story about the fans of the Gwinnett Gladiators, I note the strong sense of community surrounding the team. The sport of hockey strikes me as a touchstone for a pan-regional diaspora identity (akin to the Cricket Diaspora). The way Chicago and Pittsburgh come together in a suburb of Atlanta is how we can begin to imagine a Great Lakes mega-region.