By Jim Diamond
If Predators fans thought the most electric moment of Tuesday night’s drubbing of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals came on Viktor Arvidsson’s shorthanded goal at 12:08 of the second period, capping his second-career hat trick, well, they needed to wait just 2:49 before Rocco Grimaldi lifted the crowd out of their seats in awe.
After breaking up a play in Nashville’s defensive zone, Grimaldi skated the other way. In the high slot working 1-on-1 against Capitals defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler, Grimaldi looked up to see if he had any company in the form of a teammate in a Predators gold jersey to pass to. Seeing none, he pulled the spin-o-rama move into the left circle, firing a backhand past Washington goaltender Pheonix Copley on the near side.
While the dazzling finish will be the clip that gets shown the most, Grimaldi’s defensive effort was what stood out most to the 5’6” North Dakota alum. Grimaldi got his stick on an attempted pass by Andre Burakovsky intended for Dmitry Orlov and quickly turned and went the other way.
“I’m prouder of the defensive play that I made,” Grimaldi said. “As a fourth line, we’re not really relied on to score goals. That’s not really part of our game. We’re supposed to be smart defensively. We’re supposed to chip in when we can. But going back and breaking up the play was I think a better play than the goal itself.”
Grimaldi, signed to a two-way contract in the offseason, started the 2018-19 campaign with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL. After earning his recall to Nashville, he was in and out of the lineup before being returned to Milwaukee briefly before heading back to the Predators in late November when the injury bug began to hit Nashville’s forwards corps.
That shift epitomizes why the coaching staff has confidence in in Grimaldi.
“He’s been strong,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “He’s done a good job defensively. Their line has played well together, whoever goes on it. Rocco is noticeable because he’s able to create. He has a low center of gravity and he’s able to stay low and he comes out of corners with pucks and he wins battles that way. That was no different. He used his speed, he used a cutback, and he got low and he pushed it at the net. It was a beautiful goal. It was a heck of a play.”
He’s been in the lineup for each game starting Dec. 3 and he has endeared himself to fans, teammates, and the coaching staff with his tireless work ethic. Oh, and his mother being seen shedding a few tears following his New Year’s Eve goal in Washington during the team’s mother’s trip captured the attention and hearts of the hockey world too.
Grimaldi entered 2018-19 with 37 total NHL games played in parts of four professional seasons with Florida and Colorado. With plays like the one that culminated with his spinning marker Tuesday night, he is doing all he can to make sure his name continues to appear on the lineup card every night.