Patience pays off
by Andrew Podnieks|13 MAY 2023
Rocco Grimaldi with a fine scoring chance in his first World Championship game. He has three gold medals from three career IIHF tournaments a decade ago.
photo: Andrea Cardin / IIHF
If you had told Rocco Grimaldi on January 5, 2013, that it would be more than a decade before he would wear Team USA’s colours again, he would not have been very happy with you. You see, he had just won gold with the Americans at the World Juniors in Ufa, an unexpected but impressive run under Hall of Fame player and now coach, Phil Housley. And that capped one of the most impressive junior careers in U.S. history. Grimaldi had also won gold at the 2010 and 2011 U18s--three for three--and he had been drafted an impressive 33rd overall by Florida in 2011.

But the reality of senior hockey is that it’s difficult. Very, very difficult. Grimaldi went to the University of North Dakota for three years, turned pro, and forged an NHL career for several years, moving up and down between the AHL and three NHL teams but playing mostly in the AHL the last couple of seasons. Fast, but not big, he has had a career most aspiring players would be happy to have had, but for one reason or another he never played at the World Championships. Until this year. Ten years after his junior career ended, the now 30-year-old is one of the senior players on a young team. But Grimaldi is hardly the only one to have had to wait a long time between national-team appearances.

Consider the patience of Slovakia’s goaltender Dominik Riecicky. He also played at the 2010 WM18 (although his Slovaks never played Grimaldi’s Americans in Belarus that year), and then played at the 2011 and 2012 World Juniors. He then played for much of the next decade in Slovakia, often with his hometown Kosice team, but it wasn’t until this year that he made his way to the senior World Championship for the first time, some eleven years after ending his junior career.

Another member of the “had to wait a decade” club here in Riga is Czechia’s Tomas Dvorak. He scored one goal in five games at the 2013 U18 as a 17-year-old, and he has been a mainstay in the Czech league ever since. But year after year passed and the defender never got a chance to play at the World Championship. Until now. In his first ever game, against Slovakia on Thursday, he played 15:31 and was the only player who was +2 in the 3-2 win.

Canada’s giant defender Tyler Myers is another player who has waited a long time between appearances. In his case, he last played at the World Championship back in 2014, and his only other senior tournament was 2010. These came after a sensational junior career in which he helped Canada win gold at both the 2008 U18 and 2009 World Juniors. 

Additionally, there are seven players at this year’s event who last played in 2015. Canada’s Ethan Bear won a bronze at that year’s U18, and although he has worked hard to establish himself as an NHL regular, this is his first tournament since. Teammate Tyler Toffoli played for the stacked Canadian team that won gold at the World Championship in Prague. That team was captained by Sidney Crosby, who joined the Triple Gold Club with the win, as well as Aaron Ekblad, Brent Burns, Claude Giroux, Ryan O’Reilly, and Nathan Mackinnon, among many others.

The other five all played at the World Juniors in 2015, in Toronto and Montreal, not knowing it would take fully eight years to play for their countries again. This quintet includes American Alex Tuch and two Germans—Parker Tuomie, Nico Sturm—and two Czechs—Jan Kostalek, David Nemecek.

All of this goes to show that you play the game for the love of playing, and if you keep playing, good things will happen. The NHL is a great league, and Europe has several other leagues of high quality, but the truth is that there is no substitute for playing for your country. When the opportunity presents itself, you take it. Even if you have to wait a bit.