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Panthers pick Rocco Grimaldi’s leap of faith at NHL Entry Draft

Greg Wyshynski
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ST. PAUL — Rocco Grimaldi was projected by many to be a low first-round selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, but slipped to the second round on Saturday morning where the Florida Panthers selected him at No. 33 overall.

"Sometimes you think something's going to happen one way but that's not what God has for you. I'm totally fine with that," he said.

Overt religious references weren't prevalent among the prospects in the Xcel Energy Center interview room, but Rocco Grimaldi isn't your typical NHL prospect when it comes to matters of faith.

The Anaheim, Calif. native is a devout Christian who has voiced a desire to become a pastor. His Twitter feed (@rgrimaldi23) is filled with messages of inspiration and gospel passages; including this tweet after the NHL Draft's first round on Friday:

"Let me encourage you this morning. When something doesn't go the way you think it's going to go, praise God even more. Just know that He is up to something bigger and greater than you can imagine (Ephesians 3:20)"

Grimaldi said his use of social media to profess his beliefs isn't something he plans on changing if and when he makes the NHL.

"I think [Twitter and Facebook] are a way to spread the Gospel. I try to put positive messages out there, and keep my head up," he said. "Like last night. It was a little disappointment for me, but I came back with my head held high. That can be a good example for people going through hard times, that it's going to work out in the end."

But did Rocco Grimaldi's faith cost him in the NHL Entry Draft?

Around the draft floor, and off the record, there were those who said teams were "scared off" by Grimaldi's candid religious discourse and that, combined with being an undersized forward, they facilitated his move out of the first round. With his use of social media, it was on display for any team considering him.

"It doesn't bother me one bit. I don't know why [he dropped], but I was happy he was there," said Florida GM Dale Tallon.

"I like character. He's got impeccable character. He's a great kid. He's committed, he's got tremendous faith and it's not gotten in the way of his competing and being a tremendous teammate," said Tallon.

When asked about why he dropped to the second round, Grimaldi said, "I don't know. I wasn't what the teams were looking for, I don't know. Florida wanted me. As long as a team wants me, I'm happy that someone wanted me."

The NHL has its openly religious players, and some prominent names: Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes and Dan Hamhuis of the Vancouver Canucks are members of Hockey Ministries International, an organization that does everything from hockey camps to traveling chapels.

But mostly, NHL players don't flaunt their faith in the way 18-year-old Grimaldi has as a USHL player.

From the Grand Forks Herald:

Growing up, his Christian faith was always at the forefront of his life. His all-time favorite athlete and childhood hero: Tim Tebow, a devout Christian who played quarterback at the University of Florida and now with the Denver Broncos.

Grimaldi reads the Bible every day and frequently reads books from his favorite pastors. He has already started looking at churches in Grand Forks and will probably attend the same one as teammate Corban Knight, the son of a pastor.

He frequently posts Bible verses on his Twitter account (@RGrimaldi23). The [Bible] verse stitched on his shoe is another reminder of his faith and determination.

Grimaldi said his religious tweets are meant to inspire others.

"I try to be encouraging. I try to write what's on my mind, try to help someone out. It's definitely different than most kids. I think it's a good way to just be positive, try to help someone out if something's going wrong," he said.

"Especially since I'm small. A lot of little kids look up to me. I think I can be a great example to them as well."

He said he hope to be a role model in the NHL, but the road to the League isn't an easy one for Grimaldi as a 5-foot-6 forward. But he likes the Panthers, likes the team's new sweaters ("I think I look good in red") and grew up emulating a former franchise star — Pavel Bure.

"He was a Panther," he said. "Go figure."

All part of the plan, one supposes.

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