December 26, 2012
Rocco Grimaldi is used to all of the familiar storylines that tend to follow him. From being a hockey player from non-traditional California, to being a devout Christian with aspirations of being a pastor, to being a 5-foot-6 forward with NHL dreams, the bases are often covered. However this year, Grimaldi hopes that he can become a story about perseverance and overcoming adversity.
Recently named to the U.S. National Junior Team, Grimaldi is making his first World Junior Championship appearance a touch later than he would have probably hoped. In his final year of eligibility for the tournament, Grimaldi has finally made the team after two years of disappointment.
As a 17-year-old two years ago, Grimaldi made it to the pre-tournament camp for the U.S. National Junior Team. The opportunity to play in his draft-eligible season was one the Rossmoor, Calif., native coveted.
He was just a season removed from being part of the U.S. National Under-17 Team that had captured the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge title for the first time since 2002. He had also been part of the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team and tied for the team lead with 10 points as the U.S. captured gold in Minsk, Belarus. He seemed like a strong candidate for making the World Junior team as an under-age player, but Grimaldi ended up as one of the final cuts for the roster.
“Being cut two years ago really stung and really hurt,” Grimaldi admitted.
The next year, it looked as though Grimaldi would be a shoo-in for the U.S. National Junior Team roster. He had a strong performance at the National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., the preceding August and was set to be a major part of the University of North Dakota’s hockey team as a true freshman.
However, early in his freshman campaign, Grimaldi injured his knee. After weeks of attempting to overcome the injury with therapy, Grimaldi opted to have surgery to ensure a full recovery. Once again, his World Junior hopes were dashed, along with the remainder of his freshman campaign.
“Being hurt last year and missing the whole year with North Dakota hurt even more,” Grimaldi said. “I was around the guys all the time but I never got to help them out at all on the ice, so that was frustrating.”
Now fully healed and in the middle of a very successful redshirt freshman season at UND, Grimaldi wants to contribute in a big way to Team USA.
“I want to be reliable in both zones,” he said. “I take pride in being good offensively and defensively and not just be a one-way player. I want to really help the team in whatever way they need me. It might be different than what they have me doing at North Dakota, but I just want to help the team in any way I can.”
With the World Juniors in Ufa, Russia, this year, the tournament will be played on the wider European ice surface. Grimaldi feels his skill set will make him tough to play against on the bigger ice.
“I want to use my speed and back those D off and push the pace, and by doing that I’ll make those guys tired by the end of the game,” Grimaldi said. “I’m not going to change my game at all. I think for me, this is what got me here. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and just play the way I play.”
Though this is his first WJC, Grimaldi’s time at the USA Hockey National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., afforded him a good amount of international experience. He has two World Under-18 Championship gold medals to his credit and he was named to the all-tournament team at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. That experience should come in handy, but Grimaldi knows the World Juniors is a different ball of wax.
“It’s a little bigger of a stage,” Grimaldi said of this week’s tournament. “For me, I like that. I like having that big stage and that pressure. I like playing under those circumstances so it should be fun. I’m just looking forward to helping the team win in any way I can.”
It’s been two long years since his first chance at making this team, so now that he’s on the roster, Grimaldi wants to make the most of his first and only trip to the World Juniors.
“I’m very hungry,” Grimaldi said. “I want to bring a gold medal back to the States.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.