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University Of North Dakota & Team USA Standout Rocco Grimaldi Ready To Go Pro

Small star with big moves is poised to make a career leap.

Thursday, 05.8.2014 / 2:30 PM ET / News
By "Hockey Pat" McGrath  - FloridaPanthers.com
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University Of North Dakota & Team USA Standout Rocco Grimaldi Ready To Go Pro
(UND Athletics/Eric Classen)


Rocco Grimaldi
is ready for whatever comes next.

The 21-year-old forward signed an entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers on Wednesday, closing the book on a successful collegiate career with the University of North Dakota, while bringing him a step closer to realizing his professional potential. The 5’6” Grimaldi was drafted by the Panthers in the second round (33rd overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, but his immense talent was evident long before draft day.

A native of Southern California, Grimaldi got his start playing roller hockey at the age of five. He soon transitioned to the ice, where his talent became hard to ignore. In 2005, at the age of 12, Grimaldi and his family moved to Michigan, a move that allowed the youngster to face stronger talent and further develop his game. From there, it did not take Grimaldi long to catch on with the US National Team Development Program.

After a successful 2009-10 season with the US U-17 National Team, Grimaldi was promoted to the U-18 squad, where he helped the team win the World Junior U-18 Championship, scoring 10 points (2-8-10) in seven games, including a goal and an assist in the gold medal game against Sweden. Grimaldi would win gold again with the U-18’s the following season, and he added to his medal count again in 2013 when he helped the US take gold at the World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia. All that big-game experience at such a young age has been instrumental in Grimaldi’s development.

“I played in many big games and I’ve been blessed to win and I’ve been blessed to play with great teammates and great coaches,” Grimaldi said. “It’s a lot of fun playing there. I feel it really helped my game, my smarts, my strengths, my speed and all of that.”

Grimaldi’s stand-out performances garnered him a spot in Sports Illustrated’s ‘Where Will They Be’ feature in August, 2010, which highlights young ascendant players in their respective sports. From there, he moved on to college where he overcame the adversity of a major knee surgery in his first season with the North Dakota in 2011-12. The injury, and the subsequent rehab, resulted in a difficult year for Grimaldi.

“That was definitely one of the toughest years of my life,” Grimaldi said. “Coming in, I had expectations to have a huge freshman year and to be a big part of the team and hopefully win a national championship, and that didn’t happen.”

Grimaldi celebrates one of his three goals against Wisconsin in the Midwest Regionals. (UND Athletics/Eric Classen)

Grimaldi bounced back from the injury, putting his strong character and enviable make-up on full display as he returned to become UND’s go-to scorer, tallying 77 points (31-46-77) in his 86 game college career. Grimaldi was a force to be reckoned with this season, as he led his team in goals (17) and assists (22) while being named MVP of the NCAA Midwest Regional after leading UND past both Wisconsin and Ferris State en route to the Frozen Four. UND was dropped by the University of Minnesota in the final seconds of their Frozen Four semifinal battle, falling just short of the National Championship, something Grimaldi would have loved to have won before turning pro.

“The biggest thing that was hindering my decision [to turn pro] was not being to win a national championship here [at UND], which was something that was one of my goals and that I wanted to do,” Grimaldi said. “That was probably the toughest thing for me to walk away from, but I think overall it’s the best decision for me and the best for my career and my development and I’m very excited about it.”

After signing his entry-level contract with the Panthers, the future looks bright for the young Grimaldi, who grew up idolizing Hockey Hall of Famer and former Panther Pavel Bure. Grimaldi is looking forward to a summer full of training and hard work and he says his goal is to be on the Panthers roster when the season begins in October.

“I’m just looking to go into the summer and work as hard as I can, work on every area of my game that I can,” Grimaldi said. “Get stronger, get faster, and go into camp and hopefully make a big splash and be able to make the team. That’s my overall goal.”

Grimaldi does not think the height disadvantage will be a hindrance to his game; in fact, Grimaldi looks at his size as a unique advantage, something that allows him to play the exciting and dynamic style that he likes to play.

“To be honest, I think my size is one of my strengths,” Grimaldi said. “People may look at it as a weakness or look down upon it, but I think it’s one of my strengths because I wouldn’t be able to play the style of game that I do if I wasn’t this size.”

Grimaldi describes himself as “Someone that can do things that the crowd is kind of in awe of,” and to this point in his career, he has definitely delivered on that description.

After signing with the Panthers on Wednesday, he is one step closer to being the guy that leaves crowds in awe in Sunrise.

SCHEDULE

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Jagr 79 27 39 23 66
J. Jokinen 81 18 42 25 60
A. Barkov 66 28 31 18 59
J. Huberdeau 76 20 39 17 59
V. Trocheck 76 25 28 15 53
R. Smith 82 25 25 19 50
A. Ekblad 78 15 21 18 36
N. Bjugstad 67 15 19 -8 34
B. Campbell 82 6 25 31 31
B. Pirri 52 11 13 -4 24
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 35 19 6 .922 2.35
A. Montoya 12 7 3 .919 2.18

 
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