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Grimaldi isn't letting small stature stand in his way

by Mike G. Morreale
Rocco Grimaldi believes size and strength only can get you so far. Eventually, speed and smarts will win out.
It's a formula that has worked liked a charm for the 5-foot-6, 163-pound center with the U.S. National Team Developmental Program's Under-18 team.
"If ever I lose a battle in the corner with a big guy, it's not because he's bigger or stronger than me, it's because I did something wrong and he just took advantage," the 17-year-old Grimaldi told "I didn't get in or get out quick enough. It really makes no difference to me how much a guy weighs. I'll go in there no matter what because if I'm not willing to do that, then my teammates wouldn't be able to rely on me and I definitely want them to be able to rely on me at all times."
Grimaldi needn't worry about not having an impact despite his stature, that's for sure. He's been doing it since the age of 5 when he began competing against kids twice his age in Southern California on travel roller and ice hockey teams.
"I guess it's just something inside of me," he said. "Some guys like playing in games where they can rack up points against an inferior opponent, but that's not me. I want to be playing against the best … playing for a division title or gold medal or tournament championship. I like when there's something on the line or your season's at stake, and being able to produce at that time."
A great example of that occurred during the 2008-09 season, when Grimaldi starred for the Little Caesars Midget Major team in Michigan, erupting for 38 goals and 84 points in 58 games at a time when opposing players would goad him into taking retaliatory penalties by referring to him as the "little guy" on the ice.
In the end, Grimaldi was the one coming up big in what, to this point, is his fondest hockey memory.
"We were playing Compuware in the state final and they had hammered us four times during the season and were pretty loaded with USHL and OHL guys," Grimaldi said. "The odds were like 100-to-1 in Compuware's favor, but after receiving some great goaltending in the first two periods, we gained momentum in the third and won the game 4-1."
Grimaldi would play a big part, too, notching 2 goals and 3 points in the contest. Behind their little big man, Little Caesars won the 2009 USA Hockey Youth Tier 1 Under-18 National Championship.
"I believe that I'm a guy a team can rely on and I'm going to give it my all every time I step on the ice," Grimaldi said. "It's all for the team and I love being the guy out there. I put pressure on myself to be that guy and lead by example, to help a team out of ruts and bumps along the road."
After leading the U.S. Under-17 team with 40 points in 36 games to begin the 2009-10 season, Grimaldi was promoted to the U-18 club and flourished during its run to a second straight World Under-18 Championship gold medal. Grimaldi tied for the team lead with 10 points in seven games, including a goal and assist in the gold-medal game victory against Sweden. His 42 assists in one season with the NTDP in 2009-10 rank eighth all-time. In 26 games with the Under-18 squad, he had 7 goals and 23 points.
He hasn't let up this season. In 21 games, he leads the team with 16 goals, including five on the power-play, and 26 points. In four international games, he has team-leading totals of 4 goals and 7 points. Grimaldi recently connected for 3 goals and 6 points in three games to help lead Team USA to the 2010 Under-18 Four Nations Cup in Sweden.
He was rated No. 5 on Central Scouting's preliminary list for skaters competing in the United States Hockey League and could hear his name called in the opening round of the 2011 Entry Draft, in St. Paul, Minn., on June 24.
"It's a moment I've been waiting for my whole life and I've always dreamed about playing in the NHL and hearing my name and walking up (to meet the team's general manager)," Grimaldi said. "The year is going by pretty fast but I'm taking it day by day. You can't really dwell on a list and say, 'Look how high I am,' or 'I'm too low.' You just have to continue to go about your business, as if the list were never published."
Ron Rolston, coach of the USNTDP's Under-18 squad, is an every-day witness to Grimaldi's tenacity on the ice.

"If ever I lose a battle in the corner with a big guy, it's not because he's bigger or stronger than me, it's because I did something wrong and he just took advantage. I didn't get in or get out quick enough. It really makes no difference to me how much a guy weighs." -- Rocco Grimaldi

"He's not very big, but in terms of his ability to make things happen, especially offensively, he's unbelievably dynamic," Rolston said. "He skates well and has a great first step. In terms of his skills, he's outstanding. He's someone on our team we look to create offense every game and, without question, one of our most dynamic forwards."
For Grimaldi, who has committed to play next season at the University of North Dakota (although the WHL's Portland Winterhawks also are an option), having an opportunity to play for the NTDP the past two seasons has been a fantastic experience.
"It's always an honor to wear the USA sweater on your chest and play for your country," Grimaldi said. "The program has not only helped me grow as a player, but as a person."
Grimaldi also admits learning a lot growing up in his hometown of Rossmoor, California.
"I had so many different lessons growing up in skating, shooting and stick-handling," he said. "That's why hockey in California is where it is right now. There are so many great coaches there willing to help and put in the time and effort with you. Whatever you need, they're there to help. That's what I loved about being in California -- you had so many options available."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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