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Gladiators add pair of defensemen

The Gwinnett Gladiators rounded out their roster with a pair of defensemen Thursday, signing Matt Case and Will Colbert.

Now it just remains to be seen what players will trickle down from the team’s AHL affiliate in Chicago. Colbert is in camp with the Wolves and Case is with the Manitoba Moose right now.

Gwinnett has 20 players under contract as it prepares to open training camp today. The first on-ice session is from 12:10 to 2:10 p.m. Saturday at the IceForum in Duluth.

The addition of Case and Colbert brings the defensive corps to eight. The Gladiators also have signed 11 forwards and one goalie.

Case is a rookie coming out of Ferris State and saw time at the end of his senior season with AHL Norfolk.

Gwinnett head coach Jeff Pyle said he spoke to Norfolk and Ferris State’s assistant, Drew Famulak, during the offseason. The recommendations were all positive.

“He’s a great kid,” Pyle said. “He’s in great shape and he plays hard every night. He’s a physical, defensive defenseman. He makes a good first pass out of the zone.

“And he’s a good character kid that wants to be coached, which is a change from some guys last year.”

Pyle had long contract discussions with Case, who had 47 points and 139 penalty minutes in 144 games for the Bulldogs. The talks lasted through the summer before Pyle pressed the 24-year-old from Minnesota about a decision in the last few weeks.

“I told him I didn’t want him to miss an opportunity to go somewhere by waiting too long to sign,” Pyle said. “I told him if he wanted to come to Gwinnett, he was going to have to make a decision. He may stick there (in Manitoba), he may not.”

Colbert also was exploring his options during the offseason.

“He had a couple options and he didn’t want to sign a two-way,” Pyle said.

A two-way contract, with a specific AHL and ECHL team, pays more but also limits the place someone can play. Signing a straight ECHL contract allows a player to be called up by any of the 30 AHL teams.

“If he got a solid one-way, he was going to take it, which I understand,” Pyle said.

That didn’t materialize and Colbert signed with Gwinnett.

“He’s a big, solid two-way defenseman,” Pyle said.

Colbert was a teammate of Gladiators all-star defenseman Sam Roberts at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia before turning pro last season. Twice drafted by NHL teams, Colbert split time between Kalamazoo and AHL Worcester as a rookie in 2009-10.

While playing major junior with the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s, Colbert was drafted by Ottawa in 2002 and San Jose in 2005. He opted to go to college instead and had a productive four years at St. Francis.

“He’s Sam’s best friend and is just like him except a little bigger,” Pyle said.

Colbert, 25, is listed at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds.

“He plays hard,” Pyle said. “He’s a great kid. He knows his role as a defensive defenseman. Just like Sammy, he’s never going to complain and he just wants the team to win.

“He did a lot of homework on our team and we have a good reputation.”