Rockford, Ill. – Just over a week ago, veteran forward Rocco Grimaldi was facing an early conclusion to his season with the San Diego Gulls. Grimaldi is now looking at extending his season well into the spring. Thanks to a slew of trades pulled off at the trade deadline by the Rockford IceHogs and their NHL parent club, the Chicago Blackhawks, Grimaldi is part of a new-look group of Hogs as the regular season begins to wind down.
“I was shocked,” Grimaldi admitted on Tuesday at Rockford’s media day. “I was sitting on the bus five hours into a six-and-a-half-hour bus ride and got woken up from a 30-minute nap…They told me I was traded; I was pretty shocked, to be honest.”
Rockford (27-21-4-4) finishes off a five-game road trip with games against the Grand Rapids Griffins on Friday and Chicago Wolves Saturday. The Hogs are just a point above the Iowa Wild for fourth place in the Central Division. With a real gap opening up between the first three teams in the standings (Texas Stars, Manitoba Moose, and Milwaukee Admirals) and the fourth and fifth spots, Rockford could use a couple of victories against the bottom two teams in the division. Grimaldi should be a major asset in that quest.
“I expected I was just going to finish the year there (San Diego),” Grimaldi said, “and we weren’t probably going to make the playoffs, so I was going to be done in 15 games. All of a sudden, now you’re in a playoff push. It’s pretty cool. You go from thinking you’re going to be done soon to, you know, hopefully you can make a long run.”
Grimaldi figures to be a big part of that push. In 54 games with the Gulls, he contributed 27 goals and 29 helpers. In his last three games before the trade, Grimaldi had six points (2 G, 4 A). Hogs coach Anders Sorensen is very familiar with his new forward’s game, having seen him this season as well as in Grimaldi’s previous stops in Milwaukee and San Antonio.
“We used to have nightmares about him (Grimaldi) in the last couple of years when he was in Milwaukee, and every time you’re on the ice you hold your breath,” said Sorensen. “Hopefully opposing coaches will feel the same when he’s playing for us.”
Obtaining Grimaldi was one of several moves the Blackhawks and IceHogs made to fortify Rockford’s quest for a long postseason run. Players like Grimaldi and defenseman Andrew Welinski add veteran punch, though several players had to be moved out of town in the process.
“Our expectation is to make the playoffs and make a run and I think that they’ve tried to put us in a position that we can do that, with some of the guys we brought in,” said Sorensen. “Unfortunately when you do that, you have to move some pieces out.”
As a result of last week’s transactions, regulars like Dylan Sikura (San Diego), Adam Clendening (Hartford Wolf Pack), and Carson Gicewicz (Rochester Americans) are now members of different organizations. The IceHogs have brought several of their new acquisitions up to fill out the roster for a pair of key matchups this weekend.
Zach Jordan and Maxim Golod, both picked up last week in trades, were recalled to Rockford from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel on Monday. Pavel Gogolev, who played two games for the Hogs last weekend, was put on waivers on Wednesday in order to be given his release from the Blackhawks.
Defenseman Jakub Galvas was cleared from the concussion protocol on Monday, with forwards D.J. Busdeker and Brett Seney being placed in the concussion protocol. They join defenseman Alec Regula, who is still waiting to receive clearance.
The Hogs may be approaching a point where the blueline is getting healthy. Rockford, however, released Nolan Valleau from his PTO on Tuesday and sent Koletrane Wilson back to Indy on Wednesday. The Blackhawks recalled defenseman Filip Roos on Thursday; if Regula is still not ready for action, the Hogs may need to make another move at defense.
Rockford is back to carrying three goalies; Arvid Soderblom and Jaxson Stauber are joined by veteran Anton Khudobin, who was brought in from the Texas Stars to provide some insurance in goal. That’s a lot of new faces for Sorensen. That doesn’t change his approach, however.
“We have a foundation of how we play,” he explained. “The guys that we brought in kind of fill holes of the guys that we lost. Now it’s just a matter of finding a rhythm for those guys. Team-wise, we’re playing the same way and it’s just a matter of integrating those new guys into those systems and concepts that we had.”
Both Friday’s tilt in Grand Rapids and Saturday’s game in Rosemont are set to begin at 7:00 p.m. CDT.
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