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Rocco Grimaldi nets a hat trick for the Rampage on Star Wars night

Rocco Grimaldi playing well after returning to the AHL

(San Antonio) – Rocco Grimaldi scored only the third Rampage hat trick in the past four years as San Antonio clipped the Bakersfield Condors, 5-2 at the AT&T Center on Star Wars Night.

The contest also marked the AHL debut of former Air Force Academy MVP goaltender Shane Starrett, who stopped 44 Rampage shots in the loss, which included two empty-net goals.

“It’s definitely a test for your first game,” Starrett said after the game about the amount of rubber.

Starrett stopped Grimaldi on the Rampage speedster’s first AHL salvo on the 6-5 netminder, but Grimaldi followed the puck into the corner and shot toward the crease from behind the goal line. It hit Starrett on the arm and went into the net just 3:08 into the game.

“He found a hole, snuck it in. It clipped a little piece of me and went in,” Starrett said of the goal. “I’ve gotta seal that. It’s one I’d like back. Can’t take it back now. Move on.”

It’s been a wild couple of weeks for Grimaldi, who scored the game-winner in overtime against Iowa on Dec. 2, played an NHL game on a call-up to Denver against the Buffalo Sabres Dec. 5, and now he wore the hat back in the Alamo City.

“Since he’s been back from Colorado he’s been smart with the puck. He makes good decisions,” said Rampage coach Eric Veilleux. “Lately he’s been great at just taking what’s been given him. It works out better that way for everybody.”

Bakersfield responded quickly with Josh Currie scoring just 1:05 later, but Grimaldi struck again when he slapped in a feed from Alex Belzile after curling in the zone at 7:57. Andrei Mironov also assisted on the play.

Only Felix Girard’s seventh goal of the season just over six minutes into the second period marred the rest of Starrett’s evening as the former Falcon saw his team outshot 19-6 in the middle session.

“I don’t even realize how many (shots) they have at the time,” said Starrett, who won seven of eight games in the ECHL with Wichita prior to his assignment with Edmonton’s AHL affiliate. When asked about his reaction to the pro game, Starrett, who left the Academy after just two years, remarked, “There’s definitely a lot of skill out there. These guys are the best in the world, that’s why they’re playing professional hockey. It’s a lot more fast-paced and more plays being made. You have to be aware at all times. You can’t take a second off.”

Condors coach Gerry Fleming seemed pleased after the game when commenting on Starrett’s start. “At first he was a little nervous, with his first game in the American Hockey League. I’m sure he would have liked to have that first one back where he lost his post, but after that, he settled in. We had no business being in that game, but he kept us in it up until the end. I thought he played well.”

Fleming remarked this is the first time Starrett has received any kind of serious goalie coaching and “he’s been a sponge on what we’ve been trying to tell him and you just see improvements, not only week-to-week but day-to-day in his game and conditioning. But he’s a big goaler. His rebound control was good tonight. He was the reason we had a chance at the end. Any time you face close to 50 shots and only allow two goals you’re doing something right.”

The Rampage evened up their record on their eight-game homestand at 2-2 with the win, only their second "W" in their last seven games. Veilleux feels the team has played well during the stretch without reaping the benefits in the win column. “There’s a fine line between winning and losing in this league. Once again we get a chance to see that again tonight. I thought we played a very good hockey game. We did everything in our power to win it, but at the end of the day, with two minutes left it’s 3-2 and you know what can happen. I’m glad the guys got rewarded for what they worked for all week and today. Now it’s time for us to get back and go tomorrow.”

The Rampage host the Ontario Reign, two years removed from their Calder Cup title run in 2016, and on a hot streak after dropping their first six games of the season to improve to 9-10-0-1 after a 4-2 loss in Cedar Park to the Texas Stars Saturday night. The Rampage improve to 13-10-1-0 with the win over Bakersfield, and sent the Condors to the bottom of the Pacific Division with Saturday’s setback.

South Texas Stat of the Night -- Colin Smith scored the last Rampage hat trick last April against Texas, and Mikko Rantanen lit the lamp three times against these same Condors on Jan. 23, 2016. Grimaldi’s three-spot, completed when he scored into an empty net with 15 seconds left, is only the team’s 19th hat trick in the 16-year history of the franchise and it was the former Florida second-round pick’s first pro three-goal game.

One last note -- Dominic Toninato assisted on Grimaldi’s third goal, passing up an easy goal by setting up Grimaldi on the doorstep instead in a classy gesture. Toninato is back in San Antonio after an eight-game run with the Avalanche that netted his first NHL point.