Rocco Grimaldi is anything but the typical hockey success story. He grew up on the West Coast (not generally known as a hotbed for the sport) and has become known for an uncommon openness to sharing his faith. Through it all, Grimaldi has relied on a deep love for the Bible and support from family every step of the way.
In this CSJ Conversation, Grimaldi talks about his unique introduction to the sport, his faith journey, and how following Jesus has impacted every aspect of his athletic career:
Chad Bonham: How did you get into hockey?
Rocco Grimaldi: I started playing roller hockey when I was four and then started playing hockey when I was four and a half. My sister is seven years older than me. When she was in the sixth grade, one of her friends asked her to come watch him play hockey. Our whole family went. At the time I was playing baseball and hockey just seemed so much faster. There was a lot more going on. Me being an active kid, I fell in love with it right away. I was playing on my first travel team when I was five years old. I played for the California Wave for about five or six years then we moved to Michigan so I could play against better competition. Moving to Michigan was the second best decision I ever made after accepting Christ.
Bonham: Tell me about your faith journey.
Grimaldi: Everything happened when I was four. That’s when I started playing hockey and that’s when I accepted Christ. All of my passions kicked in right away.
Bonham: You’ve become known as an athlete who isn’t afraid to share your faith publicly. How would you define what a Christian should look like in today’s world?
Grimaldi: (A Christian should be) someone who is bold and totally unashamed of Christ. It’s someone who’s not going to hide that they believe in Him and that He is their life and the reason for living. Whether it’s something I say or how I act, I have to reflect Christ. I’m not going to be afraid to say something or be afraid of people criticizing me or putting me down for my faith. Persecution is going to come. He already warned us about that in the Bible.
Bonham: What has been the key to living out your faith in that way?
Grimaldi: Boldness happens when you know who you are and you know your place in Christ. This world is hurt and its dying. We need voices in the wilderness right now. We are definitely in the end times. We need voices to step up and start proclaiming the Gospel of Christ with boldness such as what Paul did. There were so many people in the Bible who were unashamed of Christ. It didn’t matter if they were put in jail. It didn’t matter if they were beaten. It didn’t matter if they were shipwrecked, whatever. They trusted in Him and didn’t let the world tear them down.
Bonham: Where have you learned this approach to your faith?
Grimaldi: It came through the Word and reading stories about people’s lives. John the Baptist and Paul are two of my examples. John the Baptist was not someone that the world considered special. He dressed strangely and ate strange food. He didn’t have any special gifting. But He was preaching about Heaven and Hell and boldly talking about those things. He was here to preach and do what God had called Him to do. He didn’t care what people said or what they thought. It was his job. He said what God told Him to say no matter how uncool it was, no matter how undesirable it was, no matter how bad people hated him. He was thrown in jail for what he said and later beheaded.
Bonham: What does the life of Christ teach you about living with bold faith?
Grimaldi: His boldness was best portrayed when he went to the cross. That took so much courage. He laid all of his pride down. He was unashamed his whole life while preaching the Gospel. He ended up going to the cross and had boldness in knowing it was God’s plan. There was no other way. He was so bold in his love for us. He knew what his job was and he stayed strong in doing it.
Bonham: How does that impact the way that you approach the game?
Grimaldi: God has given me the talent to play hockey. It’s not just to be used for me to be famous or for people to know who I am. It’s a platform. It’s something that I have to use as a podium to portray why I’m here. I want to tell people about Jesus and how He’s the coolest person they’ll ever meet. Hockey is just a platform for me to preach the gospel and be unashamed. It’s all about him. It’s not about me. Hockey is a gift. It’s nothing that I should be living for. I could live without hockey. But I can use it to preach the message to a lot of people that would never hear it.
Bonham: At times, your boldness has struck a nerve—especially in some of the things you’ve shared on social media. How do you deal with that criticism?
Grimaldi: The world is going to hate me for what I believe. They hated Christ. But I’m not of this world anymore. It just comes with the territory.
Bonham: What is your message to other athletes out there that might be struggling with this idea of playing hockey and following Christ?
Grimaldi: There’s a life after hockey. Hockey is not the ultimate. Christ is the ultimate. Sports are just a way to reach other people—whether you’re a big name and everyone knows who you are or if only you’re teammates know who you are. It doesn’t matter if you can reach one person or if you can reach thousands. God didn’t call everyone to be pastors and preachers. God called some to be athletes or stay at home moms to make a difference in their kids’ lives. Stay strong. If your teammates or opponents hate you for it, it doesn’t matter. Persecution will come. Just rely on Christ. Have peace knowing that He’s with you. Christ is a hundred percent more important than hockey. He’s the only reason we live. Life isn’t just something happens. Life is a gift. It’s a gift from God. I’m not just here to have fun and be successful. My job is to bring Him glory and to bring as many people with me to Heaven as I can. That’s my job and it’s going to be my until the day I die.
Photos: Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images, Xgeorg via Wikimedia Commons