Brian Gionta stands at 5-foot-7. Martin St. Louis and Daniel Briere are both considered “small” in hockey terms at 5-foot-9, while U.S. National Team Development Program alum Nate Gerbe measures a mere 5-foot-5.
At first glance, Rocco Grimaldi of the U.S. National Under-18 Team fits the same bill. But do not start to throw comparisons around be- tween him and the aforementioned NHL players.
“I can’t compare myself to someone who’s already done that and done this, and I haven’t done anything yet,” the 5-foot-6 Grimaldi said.
Surprisingly, he does not model his game after the tiny but talented forwards playing in the professional ranks. Instead, he represents a class all his own – a hybrid of the different players he grew up watching all bottled into one endless burst of energy.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who plays the exact same style of game as I do,” said the Auburn Hills, Mich., native.
“Mike Richards [of the Philadelphia Flyers] is one of my favorites. He can fight and hit, but I’m not a hitter and I don’t fight. I just respect the way he plays. And I like watching [Detroit Red Wing] Pavel Datsyuk. I like watching his hands and try to learn different moves that he does and how he gets the puck off so quick.
“You know, different guys have different things that they’re good at. I pretty much try to take little things from everyone’s game and try to do the best that I can with it.”
It comes as no surprise that Richards and Datsyuk are captain and assistant captain for their respective NHL teams. Grimaldi prides himself on being a leader – both on and off the ice.
Rocco Grimaldi #23
“For me, I like to be a leader. I can trust myself making right decisions and hopefully people will follow after that,” he said.
“Hopefully my team feeds on that confidence. I believe that every game, we have a shot at winning and it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. I’m not saying we’re going to win and kill the other team, but hopefully other players can build off that confidence.”
For Grimaldi, that confidence stems from his strong faith – a faith so unshakeable that once he plays collegiate hockey for the University of North Dakota and fulfills his goal of moving on to the NHL, he wants to be the pastor at a church.
“I’ve just felt called in my life that that’s the way to go and I know I would enjoy doing it, so hopefully it will come to pass,” he said.
While Grimaldi is influenced by his family’s faith, his grandmother’s in particular, he also looks to other athletes for inspiration.
“The Tim Tebows and the Colt McCoys – those are the guys that I look up to and I respect what they’re doing,” Grimaldi said of the rookie NFL quarterbacks. “They’re living out their faith, and when you’re on that pedestal, everyone’s going to be watching you. That’s just an even easier way to spread my faith and talk to people.”
From the start of his hockey career, Grimaldi always competed against players twice his age, and twice his height. He had to be quick, smart and always a step ahead. He began playing with a stick and ball in California and now has his sights set on the NHL.
Last year at the NTDP, he led the Under-17 Team in scoring, before being moved up to the Under-18 Team. So far this season, the dynamic forward has been ranked third in USA Today’s list of top U.S.-born prospects for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, and has led the NTDP with 20 goals (32 points) through 25 games, including four goals that helped lift Team USA to the 2010 Under-18 Four Nations Cup title.
Grimaldi may think he needs practice, but it is apparent that he has a track record for towering over the competition where it matters most.
Hometown: Weston, FL
Scoring a game-winning goal in overtime ranks among the top items on most hockey players’ bucket lists. But for Jake Levy, that moment meant more to him than he imagined.
“It was three years ago during the state championship when I got the game winner in overtime,” said the 12-year-old Levy. “What I really remember though was Coach Rob [Kenny] ran right out on to the ice and picked me up and swung me around. He was just as excited as I was about getting the goal, but he was someone that made you feel like every moment on the ice was special too.”
After Kenny was killed in a car accident last July, Levy decided he wanted to do something to give back to the Kenny family in the same way that his coach had given to him over the past five years. He was able to get a local rink to donate three hours of ice time for a skate-a-thon, with all proceeds going directly to the family.
“I’m always around his son, Ryan, and just had the idea of helping out the family,” Levy said. “I thought we would raise maybe [some money], but when my mom told me the final amount I was so surprised. [Kenny’s wife] Janelle couldn’t thank me enough. It made me feel great.”
Between donations, Kenny’s jersey patches and helmet stickers, and the auction money raised, Levy brought in more than 500 people and gave nearly $10,000 to help the Kenny family with expenses.
Donations to the Rob Kenny Family Relief Fund can still be made at goldenwolves.com.