Photo By: Dave Lentz
California, much like Florida is known for it’s warm weather, sunny skies and beach life.
Both states have developed reputations of being vacation destinations and the homes of both Disneyland and Disney World but don’t be fooled. Aside from the “getaway” status that is attached to both, there’s been some hard work going on in both states in regards to hockey. California and Florida have slowly but surely been churning out young players who continue to pop up in every year’s draft class.
Florida Panthers’ prospect, Rocco Grimaldi, although a product of California youth hockey and growing up in a whole other time zone, has actually been paying attention to the Panthers far before being drafted by Florida. His favorite player is one who Cats fans are very familiar with.
“Pavel Bure”, said Grimaldi without hesitation. “Then I’m here now which is weird. I look back at pictures and I’m wearing Panthers shirts when I was seven years old in California, it’s weird.”
Born in Anaheim, Grimaldi was first exposed to hockey from an invitation his older sister received from her friend to go to his hockey game, the Grimaldi family went along and the rest is history.
“I was watching and was like, ‘this is a little more fun than baseball, a little quicker, I’ll try it out.’ I started at the YMCA with roller hockey and half a year later I progressed into ice, found the Turcotte Stick Handling guys and from there it just took off. I’ve loved it ever since.”
Hockey has taken Grimaldi from California, to Michigan, to North Dakota and now to Florida.
“I’ve gone from the warmest, to the coldest, to the warmest again”, joked Grimaldi.
The 21-year old forward has been a highly-touted prospect for quite some time. Moving to Michigan as a kid to play for the Detroit Little Caesars AAA Hockey Club, Grimaldi quickly turned heads and earned himself a spot in the US National Team Development Program. His top-end speed, slick hands and quick shot had scouts buzzing about the 5’6”, 160 lb. skater during his time not only playing in the USNTDP but during his time at the 2010 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge as well, where he won a gold medal with Team USA and notched 14 points (4-10-14) in 6 games. He won gold again in 2010 with Team USA at the U-18 World Junior Championship scoring 10 points (2-8-10) in 7 games.
Looked at as a player who could follow in the footsteps of small forwards like Martin St. Louis and Daniel Briere, the University of North Dakota recruited Grimaldi going into his draft year, where he was ranked 25th by NHL Central Scouting. Florida selected Grimaldi in the second round (32nd overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
After his freshman season was derailed by a knee injury, Grimaldi triumphantly returned to action in the 2012-13 season without missing a beat. As a redshirt freshman, Grimaldi finished third in team scoring and went on to become the talk of the hockey world when he netted two goals including the game winner in the 3-1 gold medal win of the 2011 World Junior Championship against Team Sweden. Grimaldi along with fellow Florida Panthers prospect, Vincent Trocheck combined for the three goals scored in Team USA’s victory.
Due to his stature, many had doubts that Grimaldi could adapt to a bigger, stronger game not only at the college level, but at the pro level as well. The undersized Grimaldi silenced critics during his collegiate career, posting 77 points (31-46-77) in 86 games for North Dakota and became a fan favorite.
“There’s going to be people doubting you at every phase of your life,” said Grimaldi.
“If you listen to that, you’re not going to go anywhere. I think a dream’s not big enough if people aren’t hating on it. I’ve believed in this dream since I was a kid about five or six years old. I’m definitely excited for what this year is going to bring. I know there’s a lot of doubt for a lot of different things on the ice this year, but I’m just looking forward to being the best I can.”
Grimaldi said goodbye to his home for the last three years, in Grand Forks, trading in his North Dakota green for some Florida red, signing his first pro contract in May.
“I’ve dreamed about it a lot for sure. It’s the start of something, I just can’t be satisfied with signing and that’s it. There’s a lot more than that. I want to play for a long time and have a successful career,” said Grimaldi.
“I loved Grand Forks, everything about it. I loved the people there, it was awesome. All of my teammates and stuff. It was such a family-oriented place, in the program and outside in the city too everyone is just so family-oriented. I’m definitely going to miss that place, and that’s what made it so tough for me to leave in the first place. But I definitely made the right decision.”
Grimaldi’s speed and tenacity on the ice have made him one of the most exciting prospects to watch at the yearly development camp. Panthers’ Director of Player Development, Brian Skrudland has been one of Grimaldi’s biggest supporters.
“He’s such a dynamic player,” said Skrudland during development camp.
“When I went to the University of North Dakota and I’m sitting in the crowd, I felt so proud that Rocco Grimaldi was a Panther, because people are talking about him. They’re talking to one another getting ready for warm-ups, ‘watch this little guy, watch this little guy he’s going to light it up’. And he never disappoints. He’s got a great attitude.”
Already a highly anticipated player of Florida’s future for fans and the organization alike, Grimaldi will no doubt make the most of his opportunity to be a professional hockey player. But Grimaldi looks at this chance to make a name for himself in the pros as more than just being an athlete.
“I’m just excited to have an impact on people, on kids especially. I want to be that small guy that can put hope and dreams inside of other little guys out there in hockey and other sports and life in general. I’m just looking forward to being a role model, to be honest.”
ROCCO GRIMALDIIf You Could Invite Any Three People To Dinner It Would Be…
Hometown: Rossmoor, CA
Hockey Memory: Back-to-Back Nat’l Champs w/ Little Caesars
Hockey Player: Pavel Bure
Song(s): I'm Turnt - Lecrae; Ready Set Go - Derek Minor; Come Alive – 116
Movie: Never Back Down
Actor: Will Smith
Actress: Angelina Jolie
Sport Outside of Hockey: Soccer
Soccer Team: FC Freiburg
Book: Destined To Reign – Joseph Prince
Thing About South Florida: Weather
Beach Activity: Volleyball
Meal to Cook: PB&J
Joseph Prince, Tim Tebow, Lecrae