Yes, he’s 5’6”. (“It’s the height I’m supposed to be and I like it.”)
No, it doesn’t bother him. (“I can’t change it.”)
Yes, he feels like he has something to prove. (“I like to prove people wrong and make them say ‘wow’”)
With the obligatory questions to Rocco Grimaldi
out of the way, focus can be placed on his more statuesque qualities: he is a truly well-spoken young man whose speed and aggressiveness on the ice is equally as impressive as his polite demeanor off the ice. He was the clear man of the hour during this year’s Panthers Development Camp, a fact made obvious by the swarm of reporters who buzzed around him in the locker room.
None of it phases the Panther’s second round pick (33rd overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, however, who seems well beyond his 18 years as he relays his path to the NHL.
His hockey career began 14 years ago in California, when Grimaldi’s sister took him to watch one of her friends play hockey.
“I was four years old and I tagged along. I fell in love with it right away,” says Grimaldi, who immediately convinced his parents to put him into roller hockey.
His aggressiveness resulted in a promotion of sorts for Grimaldi - he was moved up four years and played with kids much older than him. From there he began ice hockey where he excelled as well. At age 12, Grimaldi made the move to Michigan to take advantage of the area’s competitive youth programs.
“It was one of the best decisions of my life. It was very nerve-wracking, being a 12 year old and moving away from everything that you know," said Grimaldi. "But I’m happy I did it.”
Grimaldi’s parents, both retired police officers, accompanied him, where they continued to support his dream.
“I’m a good kid because of them,” quips Grimaldi over his parents' profession.
At age 16 he helped the Little Caesar’s Midget Major team win the 2009 USA Hockey Youth Tier I 18 & Under National Championship and then went on to spend two years with the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor. There he split time between two teams and led both of them (the U.S. National Under-18 Team (3-15—18) and the U.S. National Under-17 Team (7-15—22)) in scoring against international opponents in 2009. In 2010 he aided the U.S. National Under-18 Team to a first-place finish at the 2010 Men’s Under-18 Four Nations Cup in Sundsvall, Sweden and was even named the tournament’s top forward after totaling six points in three games.
“I got a lot stronger and a lot faster there and it did wonders for me,” raved Grimaldi about playing for the US Development Program. “I had relationships with those guys for two years and I’m going to have them the rest of my life.”
Grimaldi still keeps in touch with best friend and teammate Adam Reid, a forward also from California.
“He’s back in Ann Arbor. That’s where I’m moving this summer," said Grimaldi. "We still work out together so it’s fun to see him around.”
Grimaldi will also bond with a new team when he begins college at North Dakota this year.
“I believe in their program,” said Grimaldi. “I think they run it like an NHL program and not your standard college program.”
He is excited about the coaches and the facility as well.
“I think it’s a great atmosphere for me to develop and get better,” said Grimaldi.
In addition to the guidance he’s received from parents and coaches, Grimaldi is well known for being open about his faith, so much so that he’s garnered comparisons to his hero, Tim Tebow.
“That’s pretty cool if I can do what he’s doing,” said Grimaldi. “He’s such an inspiration for me and I want to be an inspiration for someone else too. Especially with me being smaller, the smaller guys look up to me and I think that’s great.”
Grimaldi’s size has never deterred him and he looks forward to bringing that confidence to the Panthers one day.
“[I have] speed, work ethic, determination and a winning attitude," said Grimaldi. "Wherever I go, I want to win and to push the limits to be better.”
In regards to a timeline for when he’ll play, Grimaldi says he doesn’t have one.
“Whenever I can play, I’m going to play," said Grimaldi. “It’s been my dream my whole life and I’m just working to achieve it.”