These days, he works for the Blues as a professional scout, a position he’s held since Armstrong hired him in 2008. He was first exposed to scouting in 2006 when as a member of the Lightning he suffered a concussion in what was his final NHL season.
“Doug [Armstrong] always knew that I had an interest in the management side of the game after I was done playing. Unfortunately, I got hurt in Tampa Bay. I had a concussion and couldn’t play anymore. Doug was kind enough to give me a call and say if I couldn’t play, he’d like to have me do a little bit of work for the Stars while I was hurt to see if I’d enjoy it,” DiMaio said. I did.”
However, any hopes he had to become a full-time scout with the Stars were quickly scuttled.
“Unfortunately, Doug got fired from Dallas but when he was re-hired in St. Louis, he’s the one that brought me over there. That’s the way it all started,” DiMaio said. “It’s still the same game. You see a different side of it and see a lot of different things in the business side of it, which is very interesting. I have a passion for it. At some point, I’d like to further my career and move up the ladder but you have to learn from the bottom up and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Like many former players, he gave coaching some serious consideration, but since his interests lay more on the front office side, he figured starting out as a scout and working his way up would be the best way of accomplishing his goal-to one day be in upper management with an NHL club.
“I had opportunities to do some coaching but I think once you’re a coach, you’re a coach. It’s hard to jump back and forth. I just feel that I like the management side more,” DiMaio said. “At some point, I’d like to advance myself to a position where I’m more in upper management and have more of a say, but it’s a process that you have to go through. You have to learn different parts of the game and that’s what Doug fortunately lets me do. We’ll see where it goes.”
For his career, he played a total of 894 games, registering 277 points (106-171-277) while skating for seven different NHL teams, including two stints with the Lightning. Looking at how much he moved around, one might be quick to dismiss him as a mere journeyman but he sees things differently.
“I look at it like I was always wanted somewhere, so that was always a good thing. When I was younger, it wasn’t too bad to move around,” DiMaio said. “Ultimately you’d like to stay in one place and say you only played for one organization but I was fortunate. I look back at it now and know I played for some great franchises. I started with the beginning of a franchise in Tampa Bay way back in their first year in the league. And I played for the Original Six Boston Bruins. And I played for the Philadelphia Flyers. I played for the New York Rangers for a short time. I got a good taste of the whole gamut of the NHL. I look back and think that was a great thing. I got to experience a lot of different things.”
But his time with the Stars might have to rank as some of the most memorable years of his almost two decades in the league.
“I look back at it very fondly to be honest with you. It was a real good opportunity for me at that point in my career where Dallas was just coming off some success,” DiMaio recalled. “They were in a transition period where they were bringing a lot of new people in and I was part of that early. It was really an exciting time. It was a little bit frustrating as far as the production on the ice and not the success that ultimately everybody strove to get to. But it was a really fun process and I enjoyed my time certainly.”
In fact, he took to the Metroplex so well that he wanted to finish his career as a Star and the fans were a big reason for that. However, that wasn’t exactly how things worked out.
“I never wanted to leave. Pretty much everybody says that at some point in their career,” DiMaio said. “My family and I, we really enjoyed Dallas, the lifestyle and everything about it. The fan support and the passion of the people there for hockey was good and surprisingly so. Coming from places that I played in like Boston and Philadelphia, really hotbeds of hockey as far as fan support was concerned, the Dallas fans didn’t hold a back seat to any city. They were a very passionate group. They were fortunate they had a lot of teams that had good success there.”
However, the NHL lockout in the 2004-05 season afforded him an opportunity to good to pass up, a chance to play professionally in Italy.
“It was interesting. You’re playing in a different part of the world,” DiMaio said. “That’s my heritage. At the time, a lot of NHL guys were over there playing, so the competition was really good. I played on a team in Milan that won the championship. Just the way the fans celebrated and how passionate they were with their chants and everything, you see it in European soccer. It’s the same in hockey. It was a really fun experience for me and it was a shame that we had to have a lockout looking back at it now. But it turned out to be a great life experience and I enjoyed every second of it.”
He did play 61 games for Tampa Bay in 2005-06 before that aforementioned concussion ended his career. But as he looks back, he’s proud that he earned the reputation as a gritty guy who epitomized what a grinder should mean to his club. That’s a sharp departure from what the Islanders saw when they took him in the sixth round of the 1987 NHL Entry Draft.
“The funny thing about it is when I was a younger player in juniors and even when I started in the National League and my first year in the minors, I was always considered more of an offensive player, a lot more offensive than I was as a grinding type player,” DiMaio said. “Al Arbour was a guy that was my first coach in the National Hockey League with the New York Islanders. Basically if I wanted to stay in the NHL with the center men that were ahead of me playing, I had no choice but to play that way. It turned out to be the best decision that was made for me.”
While the transition from being an offensive-minded player to a grinder was a big change at first, eventually it was something the former right winger completely embraced.
“If I wanted to have a lasting career, this was the way I was going to have to play. It’s a part of the game that I think every team that’s successful has those kinds of players. It’s not the glamorous side of the game by any means but it’s the hard working [side],” DiMaio said. “You don’t get the recognition that a lot of the offensive players get but as far as the team goes, when you get close to playoff time, those are the players that you really count on a lot. You know what you’re going to get from them. I did. I took a lot of pride in playing that way.”
That’s exactly the kind of player he was throughout his NHL career and definitely during his three seasons with the Stars. Sure, his offensive numbers in Dallas weren’t eye-popping by any means (25-30-55 in 199 games), but Rob DiMaio’s value lay elsewhere, namely in doing the little and often unsung things every team needed someone to do in order to win. He brings that same mentality to his current gig as a scout with the Blues.