As he was about to take the ice for a skate in late June, Rocco Grimaldi's phone started ringing. It was his agent. Typically not one to look at his phone once he gets to the rink, Grimaldi just happened to see it before heading out to skate and took the call. That was when he received the news that he had been traded by the Florida Panthers and would join the Colorado Avalanche.
Within an hour of getting off the ice, he heard from Avalanche assistant general manager Chris MacFarland, who called to welcome him to the organization, learn a little about his family and offer any help he could provide with the transition.
"It was nice," recalled Grimaldi. "Just about everyone from each niche of the organization from the management to coaching staff to equipment, trainers, medical staff. At least one person from each of those categories called me to check in and see how my off-ice training was going, how I was preparing, how I was feeling or to congratulate me on the wedding (Grimaldi also got married this summer). It's been awesome to come here and meet new people."
The move is a chance at a fresh start for Grimaldi, who is entering his third professional season and first outside the Florida Panthers' system.
"I didn't know one person coming here," said Grimaldi. "I'm still trying to learn people's names. It's fun. It's nice coming in here, and I don't really have any expectations. I don't know anyone or their style of play for the most part, so everything is fresh."
Grimaldi was drafted by the Panthers in the second round (33rd overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft. He played three seasons at the University of North Dakota-one of which was shortened by a knee injury-and tallied 31 goals and 46 assists (77 points) in 86 career collegiate games before leaving to take his shot at the pro level.
He had a standout rookie season with Florida's former AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, where he notched 42 points in 64 games, tying him for sixth among the league's first-year players in assists and helping the Rampage to a West Division championship. Among the highlights of a whirlwind rookie campaign was making his NHL debut on Nov. 2 and playing in an AHL and NHL contest in the same day. On Nov. 18, Grimaldi started in a 10:30 a.m. game in San Antonio before being recalled in the second period by the Panthers to replace a sick Aleksander Barkov in Los Angeles that night.
Grimaldi saw even more success in his sophomore season, tallying 16 goals and 17 assists (33 points) in 52 games with the Portland Pirates and skating in 20 games with the Panthers, where he totaled six points (4 goals, 2 assists). Seeing more ice time with the parent club, including two playoff appearances, helped motivate Grimaldi this offseason.
"It was just kind of a taste for me of what it's like to be there full time," he said. "I still haven't reached my goal of actually playing a full season in the NHL, so it was a taste for me and motivation for the summer to come back in the best shape that I could."
Video: Rocco Grimadi talks Avalanche training camp
Grimaldi's time in the NHL did more than just drive him. It gave him a new perspective on the game and helped him grow as a player.
"I think the biggest thing it taught me was to not worry about too many things, about what people are saying about you, about what you think people are saying about you," said Grimaldi. "You do something on the ice and someone gives you a weird look and your mind is going all over. And I had those problems in the last couple of years or so. Right now I'm just focusing on myself. If I make a bad pass, I move on instead of beating myself up. I think that's the biggest thing is that mentally I feel a lot better. I feel more mature in that aspect."
Grimaldi is also feeling better physically. While he's always taken his health and fitness seriously, Grimaldi got a new trainer over the summer and worked more on his explosiveness, adding six inches to his vertical jump.
The emphasis on speed and an up-tempo style of play that Avalanche coach Jared Bednar is implementing at training camp also suits Grimaldi's style of play. At 5-foot-6, Grimaldi is quick and shifty with good hands and a strong hockey IQ.
"A speed game fits me well, so I'm just going to go out and try to play the way I do," he said.
The Avalanche management, coaches and development staff like what Grimaldi brings to the table, but he will certainly face some competition for a spot on the Avs' opening-night roster. Whether it's in Colorado or with the AHL's Rampage, Grimaldi will be able to make his presence known, and with a new head coach, a new team and a new organization, he's relishing the opportunity to make a fresh start.
"Sometimes when you're in an organization for a while they kind of tag you as a certain player, and they have their lineup and where you kind of fit into it. So now with a new team, new teammates, new coaching staff all that stuff, it's fresh," said Grimaldi. "Everyone is trying to battle for a spot on the team. Everything is new, and I think that's great because everyone goes even harder in training camp."