DULUTH - The Gwinnett Gladiators re-signed defenseman Ryan Mahrle for the 2008-09 season and traded another blueliner, Joe Grimaldi, to Kelly Cup champion Cincinnati for financial considerations on Thursday.
Mahrle returns to the Gladiators after appearing in all 72 games as a rookie last year. He posted four goals and 14 assists for 18 points and was a strong, steady presence in the Gwinnett zone.
Head coach Jeff Pyle was appreciative of the role Mahrle played last season and expects it to be expanded this year.
"He's the ultimate team guy," Pyle said. "He didn't get to play lot of power play and he's a power-play guy. But he never (complained). He'll be rewarded this year by getting the time he didn't get."
Pyle then paid Mahrle a huge compliment, comparing him to former Gladiator and ECHL MVP Jeff Campbell.
"He's quiet and solid - he's a defensive Soupy, he knows what to do all the time," Pyle said. "He's a great kid."
A native of Troy, Mich., Mahrle had some pro experience before arriving in Gwinnett last October. Following his four-year college career at Western Michigan, Mahrle played 13 regular-season and 20 playoff games for Kalamazoo of the United Hockey League. The 23-year-old put up 19 points in those 33 games and made a smooth transition with the Gladiators.
"I had a great experience in Kalamazoo," Mahrle said. "I went there so I could stay in school and finish my degree. It prepared me for the pro atmosphere. That definitely did help."
Mahrle was a two-time Neil Smith Defenseman of the Year award winner at Western Michigan and was the university's rookie of the year in 2003-04. He was also the Broncos' top scoring defenseman with 18 points as a junior in 2005-06.
At 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds last year, Pyle said he thought Mahrle would be using the offseason to get a bit stronger.
Mahrle confirmed he was working on that - as he has every summer.
"Especially in the pros, it's a long season so the more strength you can build up now (the better)," he said. "And I'm always trying to work on foot speed."
Pyle had no complaints about the way Mahrle played though.
"Obviously, he doesn't have the most size, so when you're smaller, you have to be stronger," Pyle said. "But you can't question his heart, his commitment. He's the kind of guy I just like being around."
Grimaldi, traded for undisclosed consideration, becomes the first player to join the Cincinnati Cyclones for the 2008-09 season. The New York native played for three ECHL teams and three American Hockey League teams last year, finishing with the Gladiators in the Kelly Cup playoffs.
The 6-1, 190-pound defenseman had four goals and 17 assists for 21 points in 67 combined ECHL games. Pyle said Grimaldi, like fellow New Yorker and defenseman Dinos Stamoulis, wanted to play for a team up North this year.
"Joe was a good kid," Pyle said. "It's not that I don't like him, or Dinos. They wanted to be up North."
And Pyle isn't inclined to stand in a player's way if they prefer to play somewhere else.