Taking Liberties With… Rocco Grimaldi
Center, Portland Pirates (American Hockey League)
Last Amateur Team: University of North Dakota
Youth Programs: California Wave, Little Caesars (Detroit)
From California Wave to riding the waves of pro hockey, Rocco Grimaldi has experienced the highs (winning USA Hockey national championships and World Junior gold) and lows (season-ending knee surgery in his first season at the University North Dakota and pro call-ups and send-downs) of the game.
Through it all, he’s maintained a strong faith and kept his sense of humor. A second-round pick (33rd overall) of the Florida Panthers in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, he’s the fourth-highest drafted Californian.
California Rubber: What’s your favorite hockey memory growing up in California?
Rocco Grimaldi: I went to the Quebec Pee Wee International Tournament three years in a row. You’re 10, 11 years old and you’re playing in front of 14,000 people. It was super cool. There were pin-trading tables in the concourse with guys who had hundreds and hundreds of pins of all different sizes; it was cool to try to trade with them. I met a lot of great people in Quebec.
CR: What’s your favorite hockey memory outside of California?
RG: When I was with Little Caesars in my Midget Minor year (16U), we played Compuware in the state championship for the right to go to nationals. They’d beaten us every game that year but in that only game that mattered, we won, and they were loaded at the time; they had so many guys on that team who went to the (U.S. National Program), college and juniors in Canada. We were down 1-0 going into the third period, and we won 4-1. Our goalie stood on his head. Then we went to nationals and won that, too. It was crazy.
CR: Who have been the biggest influences on you, on and off the ice?
RG: My parents and my grandma, obviously. The other two people I look up to off the ice are Tim Tebow and Lecrae. Tim, just watching how he interacted with the media during his college and pro career, just how he was so good to people all the time no matter if they were putting him down for his faith or whatever it was. He always went about his business and kept living his life the way God has called him to live it. He was always bold about it, never downplayed the name of Jesus in his interviews. So many things are thrown at you, and he never let that get to him; he stayed humble. Lecrae’s music has spoken to me so much. It’s not just fun music to bop your head to and dance and go crazy; the words are amazing. He makes music that’s going to have impact on my attitude. I was fortunate to meet him last month; he was a very down-to-earth guy.
CR: What’s the best piece of advice you have for young hockey players?
RG: Always keep the game fun and work hard. When I’m having fun, that’s usually when I’m playing my best. When you’re feeling good and not worried about things you can’t control, you can just have fun. And a lot of times at the pro level it doesn’t feel like a game; it does feel like a job. It doesn’t matter how many talents and gifts you have, there are guys who go out and work hard to make a career for themselves; it’s so competitive right now.
CR: What’s the most challenging part of playing pro hockey?
RG: The toughest thing is playing on two different teams in a year; I’ve done that twice now (in the American Hockey League and NHL). It’s tough living in one spot, and then having to pick up your stuff or some of your stuff and go to another spot without knowing how long you’re going to be there, then going back and not knowing how long you will be there. Should you get a place to live or live in a hotel? That’s the toughest thing. You never know. You have to get used to it and not focus on it too much.
CR: Do you have a favorite sport to play other than hockey?
RG: Growing up, I played everything. I’m actually a pretty good soccer player, so if I weren’t playing hockey I’d play that.
CR: Do you have a favorite pregame meal?
RG: Usually the standard pasta and chicken – nothing too crazy.
CR: Are you particular about any of your hockey gear?
RG: I don’t think so. I make sure my equipment is on the right spot every time; a lot of guys just throw it on and go. I make sure it’s in the exact spot I want at all times. I wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants underneath, too, because I hate my equipment touching me.
CR: Did you have a favorite player growing up?
RG: Pavel Bure was the man. He was something else to watch. It was incredible how fast he was, how he handled the puck and the goals he scored; it was something special.
CR: If you weren’t playing pro hockey, what would you be doing for a living?
RG: I’d love to say I’d have a rap career, but I doubt that’ll happen. I’ve always wanted to be a pastor, but the last couple years I’ve started to want to be a hockey coach; the places I’ve been, I’ve seen the influence they can have on players’ lives, not just on the ice but more importantly off the ice – the decisions they make, the life skills they teach. I’d want to do something to impact peoples’ lives – that’s how God programmed me.
CR: What is your favorite restaurant in California?
RG: In-N-Out Burger. I don’t get that anywhere out east.
CR: What’s the funniest hockey prank you’ve witnessed or been a part of?
RG: One time after a practice before a road trip, we were getting our bags out to pack our gear and one of the kids on our team went to work out or stretch. He was the perfect guy to pick, so I unzipped his bag, took all his gear out and flipped his bag inside out and then repacked the bag and zipped it up. He came back to the bag thinking it’d be ready for him to take to the bus or whatever, but he had to take his bag and unzip it – which is hard to do when it’s inside out – dump his gear on the floor and repack it.
– Compiled by Chris Bayee