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Former Denver rival Grimaldi turns page with Avalanche

Nick Tremaroli Avatar
June 24, 2016

Yesterday, the Colorado Avalanche traded G Reto Berra to the Florida Panthers in exchange for F Rocco Grimaldi, a product of the University of Denver’s arch-rival, the University of North Dakota. The expectation is that the Avalanche’s newly acquired centerman will start his Avalanche tenure with the franchise’s AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage.

Prior to making his professional debut in 2014 with the Rampage, then the Panthers AHL affiliate, Grimaldi was a standout center for North Dakota. During his three years in Grand Forks, he tallied 21 goals and 46 assists for 67 total points in 86 games. In six games against DU over the course of his final two years, Grimaldi notched seven points with four (1 G, 3 A) of them coming in one game in 2012.

As a mainstay on former UND coach Dave Hakstol’s line chart, Grimaldi always made his presence felt on the ice. Every time North Dakota made the trip to Denver, Grimaldi stood out. He agitated DU fans with both his pregame ribbing and his outstanding performance on the ice.

Pioneers fans always seem to note a singular game-changer on North Dakota’s bench whenever the two teams meet. For the past couple of years, it was Drake Caggiula. But before Caggiula, Grimaldi held onto that role. Even if he didn’t find the back of the net or tally an assist in a game, he was always a difference-maker against the crimson and gold.

Many in North Dakota circles believe that Grimaldi should have stayed in college for his senior season two years ago. Though he was a high-scoring forward for a program that went to the Frozen Four in his final year, he was always viewed as a very undersized player. Standing at 5’6″ and weighing only 180 pounds, Grimaldi was at times overmatched by large, fast defensemen at the college level. Sometimes he’d get stood up entering the zone and others he would be overpowered along the boards. More often than not he avoided the physical battles by being just faster than his defensive counterparts, but many believe that one more year developing under the tutelage of Dave Hakstol would have done him well and made him a better hockey player.

Even though he decided to forego his senior season, Grimaldi certainly has the potential to take the next step and become a productive 3rd or 4th line center. He is a smart hockey player with a lot of natural ability. His success in the AHL (75 points in two seasons) indicates that the talent is there. For Grimaldi, it’s now a matter of molding himself into an NHL player.

Grimaldi’s days of terrorizing the Pioneers and DU fans are over and now it’s time for him to impress many of those same hockey fans. For most, the old college rivalry will never die, but if Grimaldi produces for the Avalanche, a franchise not known for taking many chances on collegiate products, the sting of supporting a player once seen as a villain will slowly begin to disappear.

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