Mon Jun 13 02:12pm EDT
Rocco Grimaldi is well aware of his cross to bear. It explains why prospect watchers would welcome it if he proves them foolish in four or five years' time.
The 18-year-old graduate of the U.S. national team development program has grown into a top prospect despite the obvious limitation of being 5-foot-6 and 163 pounds, ridiculously small by NHL standards. That is likely to keep the Auburn Hills, Mich., resident out of the first round of the NHL draft in two weeks, but considering everything Grimaldi has accomplished, including leading the NTDP in scoring this past season and helping Team USA win the IIHF world under-18 championship yet again, one can see why people believe he will be fine so long as people underestimate him.
"I don't think I'm too small," says Grimaldi, who is NHL Central Scouting's 32nd-ranked North American skater. "I've dealt with it my whole life. Every time I've gone to the next level people have said I wouldn't be able to perform. All I do is I don't say anything to that. I just try to prove 'em wrong."
Grimaldi, who grew up in California playing roller hockey, is regarded as one of the best skaters in the 2011 draft class and also tested very well at the recent NHL Scouting Combine. He also, as he demonstrated during the U18s, has shown he is much more than a purely offensive player. It almost seems importune to ask if he ever wonders if he would be a surefire Top 5 pick if he was even so much as 5-foot-10 instead of 5-6, since being small is just a test in his view as a deeply religious young man.
"You know, I believe with God I can do anything," says Grimaldi, who is committed to play for North Dakota in the WCHA although he had interest from the Western Hockey League. "It says in the Bible that, 'with God, all things are possible.' So I believe in him, I trust in him and he's going to get the glory."
"It's just something that's deep inside of me. I think the Lord put hockey as a passion inside of me because he knew I'd use it for Him and I have. I think my parents as well as my sister have instilled that in me from seeing them work so hard. My parents are both police officers, working overtime for us to have things and my sister [Niccole Grimaldi] is a soccer player [who played at Oklahoma State], they work their butts off every day. Having a hard-working family really helped."
2. When you look into your draft ranking, do you have an expectation or do you even look into where you think you might actually be taken?
"Not too much, really. I just continue to work hard and try to get a little better every day. The team that drafts me, whenever they draft me, is where the Lord wants me and I'm going to trust Him with that and not worry about it. I'm going to continue to do what I can."
3. Was the second gold medal you helped Team USA win at the world under-18 championship as sweet as the first?
"Absolutely. I think it might have even been a bit sweeter because we had to battle a little bit of adversity, being up 4-1 on Canada [in the semifinal] and then almost giving the game away. It was, 'oh no,' we were back on our heels a bit and then Tyler Biggs scored the big goal [in overtime for a 5-4 U.S. win]. The next day against Sweden it was adversity again being down 3-1 going into the third and having to battle back."
4. You moved from California to Michigan as an adolescent to play a higher calibre of hockey. What changed for you then?
"When you get up to your teenage years in California there's not really that many good teams around. It was really my team and another team. Other than that, it was just a bunch of teams who weren't that good and it was 10-1 games where you could just rack up points. But that's not where you get better and develop. Moving to Michigan was a good thing for me, being able to better myself."
5. You're very passionate about your faith. When you're around teammates, do you keep it to yourself or are you open about it? A hockey dressing room can be a pretty salty place.
"I'm not one to curse and swear and stuff, so that kind of opens the door for people to ask why I don't. Really, I don't try to force my ways on anyone. They're not forcing me to do something, so I'm not going to force them to do something. Really, I just try to live my life and be an example of Christ and continue to be respectful to all who are around me and be a leader in the room."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.