Forward Rocco Grimaldi signed an entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers on May 7. One of the organization’s most promising prospects, Grimaldi was drafted in the second round (#33 overall) in the 2011 NHL Draft.
Most recently, he led North Dakota to the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals and was the team’s leader in both goals (17) and assists (22) for the 2013-14 season. Grimaldi has also experienced success at the international level, winning the gold medal with Team USA at the 2013 World Junior Championship, where he scored the game-winning goal in the championship game against Sweden.
Grimaldi took some time to catch up with SARampage.com as he prepares for the upcoming season.
What are you most looking forward to about playing pro hockey?
It’s every kid’s dream. It’s exciting and I just can’t wait to get out there and go to the tryout and do everything I can to make the team and if not, go back to the drawing board and do everything I can to get myself up there.
Being from California, how did you get started in hockey?
My sister is seven years older than I am, and when she was in sixth grade she was friends with this boy in her class who played hockey. He invited her to a game, and my parents and I tagged along with her and went to watch him play. I think I was four-years old at the time and I got to the rink and was just drawn to it and fell in love. I told my parents I wanted to give this hockey thing a try and see if I can do it. They gave me some roller blades first so I put those on, and half a year later I put the ice skates on. I just fell in love with the sport more and more every time I played and it became a dream and a goal of mine to play in the NHL and now here I am pretty close to my dream.
How was your experience playing at a storied college program in North Dakota?
It was great, and the tradition we have at that program is unbelievable. Just to have different alumni come back and be able to hang out with them was great. The relationships you built with the guys you played with was a great time. We have the best building in the world to play in and the best fans. It was just so much fun. I felt like I grew a lot there as a man off the ice – instead of having Mom and Dad there, I had to learn how to deal with things by myself. As a player, I think I developed into a more well-rounded player instead of a one-way offensive player, and I’m grateful for that.
What did you learn from coach Dave Hakstol in your time with the program?
Coach Hakstol is a professional, first and foremost. He was from Day 1 of the recruiting process up until now. He’s a class act at the rink and away from the rink and just someone who you can go to and can have a real conversation with. He wants to see where you’re at and wants to be able to help you with any issue you may be facing or anything you’re going through. There’s a really good support system there.
What was your experience with the U.S. program like and how did that help you grow as a player, particularly winning gold at the World Junior Championship in 2013?
I’ve been blessed to be able to be a part of a lot of big teams and to win in a lot of different places and the Program is one of them. In terms of development, there’s no better place in the entire world when you’re that age than the Program. I got faster and stronger. We were playing against older competition in the USHL, so you’re 17 or 18 playing against 24-year old guys. It really teaches you how to keep up with those guys and how to play smarter.
Being a part of the gold medal team in Russia was just unbelievable. To play alongside a bunch of great teammates was fun, and we were able to shock the world I guess, because they were counting us out from the beginning. It was great to see that it doesn’t always take the best team on paper to do things. It’s the best team that’s going to buy into their role and that’s what we did and what most of the teams I’ve played on in my career have done and it’s great to have been a part of that.
Another player in the Panthers’ organization, Vincent Trocheck, also played on that World Junior team – are you excited to potentially play with him again and is there anyone else in particular you’re really looking forward to playing with?
I’ve known Vinny for at least six years. I played with him with Little Caesars in Detroit for our midget major year before he went to the OHL and I went to the Program, so I played with him a long time ago. Our families are friends and we get along great and we got to play at World Juniors together. It’ll be fun to play with him again. I’ve met a lot of the guys at different camps – I know Bjugstad fairly well and Huberdeau as well. I’m just excited to see those guys again and build those relationships and meeting new guys.
What are you most excited about being a part of the Florida Panthers’ organization?
Just watching how they develop guys and how they’re really growing from the ground up is just incredible to see – how Mr. Tallon is building this team and putting all the pieces together to make this team a winning team in the future. I’m excited to be one of the pieces of the puzzle, and hopefully I can bring something to this team to help them win. It’s been my dream forever and I’m excited to be a part of it and see what that entails. I’m looking forward to a new challenge and going up against the best players in the world and seeing where I fit in and all that and see how I do.