DULUTH — Gwinnett Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle finally landed a pair of players he had been in talks with all summer.
Forward Ryan Garbutt, a former college teammate of Sean Hurley at Brown University, has been signed and Pyle got back shut-down defenseman Tim Filangieri.
Deals for both the second-year pros were announced Monday.
Filangieri played 49 games for the Gladiators last season and was twice called up to the American Hockey League. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound blueliner out of Boston College was a stalwart presence for Gwinnett.
“He played hard every game, every practice,” Pyle said. “It just gives us that much more depth in the players that I think we need to be successful. He’s not worried about putting points up. He wants to be in a situation where we have an opportunity to win.”
As a rookie last year, Filangieri’s play drew attention from the next level, including earning him a 10-game stint with the Gladiators’ AHL affiliate in Chicago.
“I told him I’d love to have him back,” Pyle said. “He had some options, too, but he knows how I am and he liked what he saw last year. He wanted to be back here.
“He played solid defense for us and was great in the locker room. He knows he’ll be treated fair and get the opportunity to move up.”
Filangieri will be going to the Chicago Wolves’ training camp, as will Garbutt, who spent last season with Corpus Christi of the Central Hockey League when a numbers game left him without a spot following AHL camp in Manitoba.
“He had 50 points, but he didn’t play any power play,” Pyle said. “And he can fight, too. He had 200 PIMs.
“I just told him, ‘I know you kind of got the shaft last year by waiting too long (to sign a contract).’ So I went after him pretty hard early.”
Pyle got Garbutt, a 6-1 center, into the Atlanta Thrashers’ prospect development camp in July. Despite an injury that limited the 25-year-old’s playing time, the camp reinforced Pyle’s confidence in Garbutt.
“I just liked Ryan right from the get-go,” Pyle said. “He’s a good kid. He’s a great skater. I want to help him get out of this league. He can score, he’s tough and he’s a headsy player.”
Pyle isn’t so concerned with Garbutt fighting all the time, but just being tough to play against — something Pyle feels the team lacked last season.
“He competes all the time,” Pyle said. “This game is played with passion. You have to do what it takes to get the room you need to do what you need to do.
“Last year, we weren’t tough enough around our net and we were not smart enough 5-on-5.”
Pyle feels getting players like Filangieri and Garbutt, and even former captain Paul Flache, is just the remedy for Gwinnett’s malaise. Pyle took exception to some of the derogatory comments made by a few fans when Flache’s signing was announced last week.
“With Flacher I’m taking a bit of a chance, but I think he deserves it,” Pyle said. “People jump all over Flacher like he was the only one here (when Gwinnett lost in the second round of the playoffs in 2006-07).
“People can complain about Flacher all they want, but the year he was captain, we won 40 games.”
Adding Flache, whose AHL career suffered after multiple concussions, is a move Pyle is more than willing to stick by.
“I have to make a lot of tough decisions and I’ve got the guts to make those decisions,” Pyle said. “You’ve got people behind a computer and they don’t have the (guts) to make those decisions and then be accountable for them.
“I don’t claim to not make mistakes, but I like what I’ve got this year. I’m excited with what we’re doing. I know we’re going in the right direction.”
After his initial irritation passed, the situation made Pyle realize how much he likes his job. In fact, the other night he couldn’t sleep — not because he was mad. Because he was excited about the season.
“I started thinking about how much fun I’ve had over the years, not just here, but playing and in Mobile (where the Gladiators relocated from),” Pyle said. “Even when we don’t have a great season, a lot of great things happen that the average fan doesn’t see. The complainers are always going to complain. That’s just normal to me, people that are just looking for the worst side of things.
“But we have a lot of great fans and the complaints aren’t going to phase the way I make my decisions. I just realized again how rewarding my job is over the last week. A handful of fans that are negative aren’t going to change my outlook.”