UND's Grimaldi relishes time at World JuniorsGRAND FORKS — Rocco Grimaldi left Russia last weekend with a gold medal in hand and his highlights playing on ESPN.
By: Brad Schlossman , Forum News Service
GRAND FORKS — Rocco Grimaldi left Russia last weekend with a gold medal in hand and his highlights playing on ESPN.
The University of North Dakota freshman forward scored the game-tying and game-winning goals for the U.S. during the gold-medal game of the World Junior Championship to cap a tournament that was a roller-coaster ride for Grimaldi.
Even he admits that the under-20 event didn’t go as he envisioned, but, he added, “I don’t mind it now. I have a gold medal and that’s what I went out there for.”
The U.S. started the tournament 1-2 and Grimaldi didn’t play any shifts in the fourth game. But he came back to be the hero in the championship game.
“Everybody is proud of him,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “He faced some adversity during the tournament. He didn’t drop his head once, even in the game that he didn’t get on the ice. That’s a tough situation when you’ve got the cameras on you and everybody’s eyes are on you. He didn’t drop his head once there.
“He worked his way back into the lineup, and as we all suspected he would, he ended up having a big impact in the biggest game. We’re proud of him. It was a great win for the USA.”
Grimaldi, now back in Grand Forks, talked about his experience with the Herald on Wednesday night.
Q. What was the World Junior experience like?
A. We faced a lot of adversity from going to a different country to eating different foods. We went through a lot of adversity in the tournament and we came out on top, which is awesome. Great experience.
Q. What was it like as the seconds ticked down against Sweden in the gold medal game and you realized you were going to win it?
A. It was a relief when that empty-net goal went in. They had a couple of good chances. Our goalie made some good saves, guys blocked shots. . . finally, when I saw he was going to put it in, I knew this one was over. It’s a great feeling. We’re the third team in U.S. history to do it. We had a great group of guys.
Q. Your team was 1-2 at one point, and coach Phil Housley decided not to play you in the fourth game. Was that a difficult experience?
A. It was definitely frustrating, especially because it was an elimination game. If we lost, we were going home and that would have been my experience right there. It would have ended. It was frustrating, but it was what the coach wanted. The team got a big win for us and I was put back in the lineup the next night. I wanted to prove that I was supposed to stay. . . maybe play harder, maybe play better, and stay focused. I bent a little bit, but I didn’t break. I’ve been through that before. I just wanted to make sure I kept a good attitude. I didn’t want to have a bad attitude or look like it got me upset, because it didn’t. Obviously, it was frustrating, but it wasn’t something that was totally going to ruin my experience. I didn’t know if I was going to play. I just knew I was the 13th forward. I was just waiting for my name to be called. I wanted to be ready, I was moving my legs. It was good, though. It ended up pretty good. It shows people you can go through things like that and end up on top as long as you have a good attitude.
Q. Did you feel your line with Vince Trocheck and Tyler Biggs had some good chemistry?
A. I played with Biggs for a couple years at the (National Team Development) Program. I played with Troch at Little Caesars. So, I kind of knew them. Obviously, we had a pretty good last game there. We had pretty good games against Canada and the Czechs, too. We had some pretty good chances, so that was good. I enjoyed playing with all the guys I played with.
Q. In the gold medal game, you took a shot that hit both posts and went out. At that point, without a goal in the tournament, what are you thinking?
A. I was like, ‘This is my experience right now. That describes everything about the whole tournament.’ At first, I didn’t know I hit double posts. I thought I hit post-and-out. Then, I looked up at the replay and saw it hit double posts. I don’t know if they caught a shot of me, but I started laughing. I was like, ‘I don’t know what else I can do. This is ridiculous.’ TSN interviewed me at the first intermission and I said, ‘All I know is that it’s going to go in. That proves it right there that I’m getting close if I keep shooting.’ I was fortunate enough to get a couple good breaks and get a couple goals and help our team. It’s basically another attitude thing. Is this going to make me put my head down and say, ‘Ah, it’s never going to go in,’ or am I going to say, ‘Hey, you’re close, keep going,’?
Q. Was it a good feeling when you saw the first one go in, a bad-angled shot along the goal line?
A. I’ll take it in any way I can get it. It was a relief. Just like a few weeks ago against Denver, I threw the monkey off my back. I did that one again. It’s my go-to, I guess, when I’m struggling. I got that one to go in, I’m not exactly sure how. I think it went up his pad. It was a relief to me. I was like, ‘Ahh, the pressure’s off.’ It wasn’t exactly how I envisioned the tournament tto go, but I don’t mind it now. I have a gold medal and that’s what I went out there for.”
Q. The last time there was an NHL lockout, Canada dominated and won a gold medal here. You guys hammered them 5-1 in the semifinals. What were you thinking as that score got out of hand?
A. I don’t think it was a big surprise that we were winning. It was a big surprise how we were winning, that we were totally dominating from the start, especially in that first period, we jumped out right away. We were putting pucks deep and getting on their defensemen and getting turnovers.
Q. You have won gold in all four international tournaments you’ve played in. What’s that like?
A. I’m just blessed, big time, by God. It’s great to be with the guys I was with. Every one of them was not in the U.S. Three were overseas and one was in Canada. Obviously that’s something very special to me. Sharing all four with Tyler Biggs was special. All of them were special in their own way. We went through different things in each tournament. Each team was full of guys who played for the team. Nobody was there for themselves.
Q. Did you keep track of how UND was doing against Holy Cross?
A. Yeah, our doctor was from Fargo. I kept asking him what the score was and who was scoring. I wanted to make sure we were doing all right. If we lost, I wasn’t going to hear the end of it from the Minnesota guys.
Q. Did you know UND fans were following you closely?
A. Yeah, they reached out to me on Twitter and Facebook. I love my Sioux family here. When you’re in another country, away from family for Christmas and New Years — I had never done that before — it’s nice to have people reach out to me. They were getting up early at 3, 4, 5 in the morning to watch. That’s special. You don’t hear about that very often. I want to thank them for that.
Q. Can you use this experience to your advantage in the future?
A. Yes. It was good for me to go through something like this and come out on top.