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Long road
Gladiators' Grimaldi taken serpentine rout this season

DULUTH - Being traded twice in his rookie season hasn't gotten to Joe Grimaldi.

All the miles on his new car have.

Grimaldi has driven across the country twice in the last two months. He's got 11,000 miles on a shiny white Hummer he just bought in August.

"It's been a long (road)," said Grimaldi, a hard-hitting, point-producing defenseman the Gwinnett Gladiators acquired Feb. 20.

"I'm rattled about my car."

The native of Long Island isn't letting the rest of it get to him.

"I looked at it this way: If no one wanted me, I would have gotten released," Grimaldi said. "I look at it as at least people want me.

"And I think, for my first year, I'm having a good season. I've got almost 20 points, my plus-minus is good. I never thought I was going to get called up (to the American Hockey League) two times already."

Grimaldi signed with ECHL's Elmira coming out of major junior hockey in Ontario, but began the year at AHL Rochester's training camp. He played one regular-season game for the Americans and was assigned to Elmira.

The 21-year-old was called back to Rochester a week later and played one more game. After returning to Elmira, he was called up to Albany for one game in December.

A month later, Grimaldi was traded from Elmira to Fresno.

"(Elmira) owed them a player from a previous trade," Grimaldi said. "Fresno had been trying to get me to come there all summer."

Grimaldi said Elmira head coach Steve Martinson didn't tell him about the trade face-to-face.

"He called me at my apartment at 11:30 (a.m.) and just said, 'Oh, I traded you,'" Grimaldi said.

It was one more reason Grimaldi was unhappy with the way things played out in Elmira.

"I got called up (to the AHL) two other times and my coach wouldn't let me go," he said. "We only had four defensemen due to injuries and all that kind of stuff. So he wouldn't let me go and I was very upset about that. I just wish he would have let me go."

Adding salt to the wound was that Grimaldi didn't find out until later that another AHL team had also asked for him.

"I was disappointed," Grimaldi said. "And I told him (when I signed) I didn't want to get traded around. I had other opportunities for places to play and he really wanted me to come there. So I felt like, why would you beg me to come here?

"But I've been fortunate. Everywhere I've been going, I've been playing a lot."

It took him three and a half days to drive to California, with a stop in Omaha, Neb., where he played a season and a half of college hockey before going to the Ottawa 67's in the OHL.

He played 10 games for Fresno, spent a month there, and then found out he was being traded to Gwinnett.

This time, at least, the coach gave him the news in person.

"They said it has nothing to do with your play," Grimaldi said. "He just said, if you want to get something good, you have to give up something good."

The Gladiators were in need of a defenseman and Fresno wanted rookie forward Stuart MacRae, who had been with the Falcons at the end of last year.

"But I wanted to come back to the East," Grimaldi said. "It's hard to get called up (over in California).

"I was looking either at going to Cincinnati or here. One of the two. So it worked out well."

Except for putting another 2,300 miles on his car.

Grimaldi knew he was coming to a solid situation in Gwinnett, which is in second place the ECHL's South Division.

His agent knows head coach Jeff Pyle well.

"He said (Pyle) was a good guy," Grimaldi said. "And he is. He really cares about the guys. Some coaches, they don't care about the guys, they just care about winning."

Grimaldi had two friends on the team already. He grew up with Dinos Stamoulis and Matt Anderson on Long Island.

"The good thing about our team is everybody gets along pretty well and is pretty open to people coming in," Stamoulis said. "I think that helps. But so far so good. He's managed to fit in pretty well."

Grimaldi had also seen the arena and the area when Elmira swung through on a road trip in November.

"That's why I think Pyle traded for me," Grimaldi said with a laugh. "I had a really good game that night."

Grimaldi has 18 points in 57 ECHL games this season and is a plus-12 for the year.

"Joe's been great," Pyle said.

"He's a little chancey at times, but he'll learn. He does a lot of good things. He's got a lot of poise back there. He moves the puck well. He's got good vision. I just need him to be simpler, not for us at this level, but I want him to be prepared for the next level."

He got his first point as a Gladiator - a goal - in Saturday's rout of Augusta and celebrated accordingly as the crowd leapt to its feet.

"It's been a hectic year," Grimaldi said. "It's been crazy. A couple of times, I was just like, 'Screw it, I'm going home.' But then I was like, you know, I got called up twice."

If it had been a different team in the league, Grimaldi said he wouldn't have reported.

"He's one of those kids that listens and he wants to learn," Pyle said. "He's opinionated. But it's not a bad thing. I have no problem with that.

"All I care from these kids is that they want to move up and they want to work hard. And he does that. He's a good kid. I think he fits in here well."

SideBar: Stingrays at Gladiators

· When: Friday, 7:05 p.m.

· Where: Arena at Gwinnett Center