Nashville Predators forward Rocco Grimaldi has been named the team's nominee for the 2019 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association (PHWA). The trophy is awarded annually to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
Considering those qualifications, there's no one better to receive the nod than Grimaldi.
After starting the 2018-19 season with the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals, Grimaldi got the call to Nashville on Oct. 25 - and with the exception of a quick down-and-back around Thanksgiving, the 26-year-old has been a full-time NHLer for the first time.
Fifty-three games played, five goals, eight assists, 13 points - they're all career-highs, and it's not even close. With reliable play at both ends of the ice, coupled with a dash of skill - including one of the prettier goals scored by the Preds this season - Grimaldi has more than earned his spot in Nashville.
"It definitely hasn't been the easiest journey for me, and it's been a longer road than I expected or I wanted, but I think that's the case for most people in their lives," Grimaldi said. "Just being able to go through what I've gone through gives me a story that's easy to relate to people. I think people have gone through similar things that I've gone through in terms of doubting myself and wondering if my dreams will come true and wondering if I did enough.
"I'm happy the way my career has shaken out so far. I'm happy that I've had to go through the things that I've had to go through - obviously at the time I wasn't happy with it - but I don't think this would be as special actually being here this year than it is because I've had to go through so much. Nothing's been given to me, and I guess I wouldn't want it any other way than having to work as hard as you can for it."
Prior to Nashville, Grimaldi had stints in Florida - where he was drafted in 2011 - and Colorado, but was never able to find a permanent home in the NHL, mostly sticking in the American Hockey League instead.
Never one to shy away from making light of his 5-foot-6 stature, Grimaldi never let that, or any other obstacle, stop him from pursuing his dream of playing professional hockey, even if it wasn't at the highest level.
But now it is, and Grimaldi is honored to receive Nashville's Masterton nomination as a testament and recognition for what he's gone through thus far, and more importantly, what's still ahead.
"God has blessed me with an ability to play this game, and I've loved it since I was a kid at four years old," Grimaldi said. "Hockey is just a platform for me, and I've got a lot more that I want to do after my hockey career is over, hopefully in 15 or so years, but I feel like the impact that I can have on people is a lot more important than just what I do on the ice… I'm glad that I've been born with that work ethic. My parents instilled it in me, and everything I've ever had in life has always had to come through hard work, it's never been given. It's just kind of the way I'm created."