Will Colbert has been rock-solid on defense and a leader in the locker room for the Gwinnett Gladiators this season. Returning to the team as a third-year pro, Colbert was selected as an alternate captain and several times has been singled out for praise by head coach John Wroblewski.
Colbert, who split time as a rookie with Kalamazoo and AHL Worcester before coming to Gwinnett, has helped the Gladiators to a division-leading 15-9-6-3 record this year. The big blueliner was twice drafted by NHL teams and opted to get his degree from St. Francis Xavier after his third season playing for the nearly hometown Ottawa 67's.
In this installment of "Getting to know ...", Colbert took time to talk to staff writer Christine Troyke about a variety of topics, including playing in the Memorial Cup as captain of the 67's, delaying his pro career to get a degree and the ability to grow a good-looking mustache.
CT: What's your method for passing the time on these long ECHL bus rides?
WC: I like to read a lot, but I also got an iPad for this season. Figured that would help me out a lot -- and it has.
CT: Do you put books on there? Or movies?
WC: Mostly TV episodes and stuff.
CT: Have you got some favorites?
WC: "Modern Family," "24."
CT: Are the trips you take here much different from the ones you took in the OHL?
WC: They're a lot longer here. In the OHL, we'd have one really long road trip. We'd go from Ottawa, down to basically Detroit, then up to Saginaw and Sarnia. We did that once a year. And we go to Sault Ste. Marie. But I think that was only eight or nine hours. Luckily they were in the Western Conference and we were in the East, so we that helped us out.
CT: What's your hometown (Arnprior, Ontario) like?
WC: It's about 8,000 people and 45 minutes west of Ottawa. It's a small town with an arena complex with two ice rinks in it -- and a pool. So that's what the town revolves around when it comes to athletics. There's just one public high school.
(Smiling) That's about all we have to brag about.
It's pretty slow-paced, kind of small town, surrounded by farms. I actually live just outside of town, which is kind of on farm land. I never got into any of that though.
But it's a good town, a good place to raise a family.
CT: And sounds like close enough to Ottawa to have access to the big-city stuff.
WC: Yeah and Ottawa is coming to us.
CT: The spread -- like Atlanta.
CT: How old were you when you left home to play for the (Ottawa) 67's?
WC: I had just turned 17. So it wasn't bad. I did move in with a billet family. It would have been a little hard to do the drive (home) late at night.
CT: But your family must have gotten to see you play a lot?
WC: Oh yeah. They came to all my home games and my dad went to most of the away games.
CT: Blueliners don't get a lot of glory. Have you always been a D-man?
WC: Yeah. I was one the bigger kids when I was nine or 10 and starting to play hockey. So the coach stuck me on the blueline and I've been there ever since.
CT: Does it work for you?
WC: I'm sure I played a bit of forward when I was younger, but I like playing defense.
CT: Not so concerned with lighting the lamp?
WC: No, no. It's always fun to do once in a while, but, no, I don't mind playing defense and not getting a lot of the glory.
CT: The thing about defensemen is you know they've done a good job if you didn't really notice them.
WC: Exactly. It's been nice with these shutouts (three straight from Dec. 17-28), too, we might get a bit of attention.
CT: You played three straight seasons with the 67's. That's a pretty good deal, especially so close to your hometown and you were able to stay for your whole junior career.
WC: It was awesome. We went to the Memorial Cup in my last year, 04-05 and that's when the NHL was locked out. So Sidney Crosby was in that one. I was the captain of Ottawa that year. London won it, they were hosting it. But we were ranked sixth in our conference going into the playoffs and made it to the finals. So it was a fun run for sure.
CT: So you were drafted by the Senators?
WC: When I was 18.
CT: That's must have been a big deal.
WC: I was the first 67 ever to be drafted by the Senators. There've been quite a few since actually, but I was the first one. That was really neat. They were my favorite team growing up, obviously being so close.
CT: You were the youngest guy at the Sens' rookie camp?
WC: Yeah. I broke my wrist that year. First game of the rookie camp.
CT: You were drafted again, by San Jose?
WC: That was after the Memorial Cup.
CT: But you opted for college. Was that a decision you already had made?
WC: I'd committed to go to school before the draft and decided I was going to stick with that.
CT: Was school something that was always a goal?
WC: I had always planned on going to school. My mom is a teacher, so school was always important. My mom and dad both spent seven or eight years in university and my sister, who was ahead of me, was on her way to spending eight or nine years in school (on advanced degrees).
But I also wanted to do it for myself.
CT: St. Francis is in Nova Scotia, kind of a small town, right?
WC: Yeah. It's a couple hours from Halifax. There isn't an escape to Ottawa, but it's similar to my hometown.
CT: Looking back, it was a good place for you, a good decision?
WC: Maybe not necessarily for (my pro hockey career). Going to four years of school, starting when you're 20 years old, is delaying the start of your professional career. Maybe it wasn't the greatest idea for hockey. But I was pretty set on getting my education.
CT: I wondered if you had looked back and wondered what path you might have ended up on if you'd decided to turn pro right after junior?
WC: It's human nature to look back on that stuff. But I'm pretty good at taking what's in front of me instead of worrying about the past.
CT: What degree did you get?
WC: Human kinetics. It's good. It related to everything. Everything about human movement.
CT: You were named captain at St. Francis as a junior so wearing the 'A' here isn't unfamiliar territory?
WC: No. And everyone always says the same thing -- it doesn't really change what you do. But with (fellow alternate Andy Brandt and captain Paul Flache), it's pretty easy to fall in line with what those guys are doing. I think we're all on the same page with how we like things to go and sending the coach's message.
CT: Who were you under contract with coming out of college?
WC: Worcester. I was on a two-way deal. That was because I had been drafted by the San Jose Sharks. I went to their training camp out of college.
CT: Was there an offer on the table from them the second year or were you already looking at other options?
WC: With how deep their organization was on defense, it was (a mutual decision to go separate ways). I needed a fresh start away from there and they just had so many guys.
CT: How did Gwinnett end up being the team you signed with?
WC: Sam Roberts (his college teammate and one-time Gladiators captain). Our college coach (Brad Peddle) played for Coach (Jeff) Pyle back in the day. He knew Pyle pretty well so he told Sam he should come and play here that first year. He liked it so it was a pretty easy decision for me. I trust him as much as I trust anybody and he thought I would like it here. He was right.
CT: It can't have been easy to see your friend get traded (Roberts was dealt suddenly last March to Reading in exchange for three other players). It's part of the game, but was that a difficult situation?
WC: It was tough. He didn't see it coming. A lot of the times, you do. So it was tough. But we still manage to spend some time together.
CT: Had you already signed a contract when Jeff left to go coach in (AHL) Texas this summer?
WC: I was in the process. I committed to coming back here.
CT: (New head coach John Wroblewski) extended an offer to anyone in that position to reevaluate because of the change. But your conversations with him, you thought it was still going to be a good scenario here?
WC: Even before he was hired, I trusted that (GM Steve Chapman) would find the best person. He did, I think.
The day that we heard Wrobo was hired, he phoned me and the ideals he had in place already for this season, they were right along with what I was hoping Chappy would find in a coach.
It's a transition from Pyle, just different styles, different approach. But I've been having a great time this year. Obviously with winning, I think everyone is having a good time.
CT: When I was surveying guys in November, most of them nominated you for best mustache (grown for the month by many pro athletes to promote awareness for men's cancer research). Does that just come naturally for you?
WC: (Laughing) Yeah, I think so. I mean, I don't think my dad grows a great mustache, but he never really lets it get to that point. It either works or it doesn't for you. I've been told it works for me (smiling).
CT: Would you consider having it outside of November?
WC: I'd consider it. There would have to be something on the line though. It's not a look I'm going to just go with otherwise. Maybe if I go bald, I could take the attention off my hairless head. Then I'll reconsider.