NASHVILLE (BP) — As a boy, Rocco Grimaldi earned a nickname from his grandmother — “Little David” — based upon his similarity, in size and temperament, to the biblical David.
It’s a nickname well suited to Grimaldi, a right winger for the Nashville Predators, who for his entire life has always been the smallest guy on his team. At 5’6″, 160 pounds, Grimaldi has to rely on more than just his physical attributes to be a successful hockey player.
That’s one reason he has always related to David — both as a giant slayer and as a man after God’s own heart.
“God doesn’t view us by how tall we are, how strong we are, how great we are, how wise we are, what family we’re from,” Grimaldi said. “He looks at each individual by the heart that they have.”
While Grimaldi resonates with the story of David and Goliath, he says there’s so much more to David than that. When the prophet Samuel came to David’s home to anoint a king of Israel to replace Saul, he was sure that David’s brother Eliab was the chosen one.
Grimaldi’s favorite verse, 1 Samuel 16:7, says, “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or his stature because I have rejected him. Humans do not see what the LORD sees, for humans see what is visible, but the LORD sees the heart.'”
After the Lord rejected all of David’s older brothers, only then did Samuel anoint David as king — because he had the kind of heart that God wanted.
“That’s how I grew up, and was raised in a family that taught me that I was supposed to have a good heart, and have a heart that trusted God and followed God with everything that I was,” Grimaldi told Baptist Press. “And to view people in the eyes of God as well, to not just look and make assumptions based off of what they look like, or what I might think they are just by what I see. But to really look at who they are on the inside.”
A native of California who later moved to Michigan, Grimaldi grew up in a Christian home with parents who were raised Catholic but who later became evangelical Christians. Grimaldi placed his trust in Christ as a young boy, and his dream all through childhood was to play in the NHL — a dream that at times seemed unlikely, especially given his physical stature.
That’s another way that Grimaldi relates to David. Though David had been anointed as king, he had to wait several years, many of them with his life in jeopardy, before he actually became king. Grimaldi sometimes wondered if he’d ever get a shot with the NHL.
But he persevered, trusting in God’s timing, and eventually his lifelong dream became a reality. Grimaldi made his NHL debut in November 2014, three years after being drafted 33rd overall by the Florida panthers.
In addition to his childhood obsession with hockey, Grimaldi says that God put another love in his heart as a boy — a love for Scripture. He began reading his Bible daily when he was in third grade.
“Obviously you’re going to miss days here and there, but I’ve been reading my Bible every day for a long time,” he said. “Just because of that discipline that I chose to start as a young kid, it’s continued with me as an adult.”
Grimaldi admits that he is blessed, as a professional athlete, to be able to play hockey for a living. But he says a lot of times, people think professional athletes have a life that’s easy and free from trials. That’s not at all the case, Grimaldi says, and he deals with various stresses and anxieties like other people. As a Christian, he has an anchor when life’s difficulties and challenges arise.
“I have God who is able to get me through these things, who’s able to teach me through these things, to show me different things, to grow my faith through these things,” he said. “And I never just view hockey as an end all, be all. At the end of the day I know that with or without hockey, I’m still going to be the same person.
“I know that hockey is great and it provides a lot of opportunities for me, but without it I’m still going to be fine,” Grimaldi continued. “My life isn’t about scoring goals, or winning Stanley Cups, or doing this or that. My life is about having a relationship with Christ, relying on that relationship, having great relationships with people, and helping people, being an example to those that look up to me. And to just show who Christ is to this world.”
Grimaldi and the Nashville Predators take on the Dallas Stars in the NHL’s Winter Classic on New Year’s Day in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. The game will be televised nationally on NBC.