TOM MILLER: UND on the move with Rocco's move
How unique is UND sophomore forward Rocco Grimaldi?
After UND's 3-1 win over Northern Michigan on Saturday at Ralph Engelstad Arena, the dynamic and diminutive star described his own energy level as super-human.
"I'm different," Grimaldi said. "The more I play, the more energy I have. I'm not sure if that's human or not."
Grimaldi has certainly been in his own world during UND's five-game winning streak that sends the program into 2014 with a winning record. Not coincidentally, Grimaldi is on a five-game point streak.
On Saturday, he set up the game-winning goal with a touch pass from behind the net to linemate Drake Caggiula, who gave UND a 2-1 lead just a few minutes after North Dakota appeared lifeless.
Grimaldi, who was named the game's top star, easily leads the team in scoring with six goals and 11 assists. On Friday, Grimaldi had two assists in the second period as UND built a comfortable lead, setting the stage for Saturday's sweep.
"Rocco has been good," UND coach Dave Hakstol said. "He's played with real good energy throughout the season."
But Grimaldi really took off starting last weekend against Western Michigan when Hakstol moved Grimaldi from wing to center, flanked by rookie Luke Johnson and Caggiula.
"Moving into the middle and gaining chemistry with Luke and Drake seems to have energized him even more," Hakstol said. "He's been real good for us. And not just offensively, although everyone will look at the point streaks. He's been real good on faceoffs, the power play, the penalty kill and has played good hockey in our own end."
The move to center has meant more ice time for Grimaldi. Hakstol pegs Grimaldi's minutes per game recently around 22 or 23.
"Rocco thrives on extra ice time," Hakstol said. "He's able to handle that well. You see that in a lot of players, especially as their bodies mature. I definitely see that in Rocco."
Grimaldi's change to center has also meant a prominent role on faceoffs. A year ago, Grimaldi had a .474 winning percentage on faceoffs compared to this season's .583 winning percentage.
Grimaldi's faceoff numbers are best on the team, sixth in the NCHC and even more impressive than Corban Knight's senior faceoff winning percentage (.572). Knight was widely considered UND's best faceoff player during the past few seasons.
Hakstol credits the faceoff improvement to Grimaldi's maturity, as well as being a year removed from an injury that wiped out his true freshman season.
Grimaldi, meanwhile, said it just took some time to adjust to a role he was accustomed to in his hockey upbringing.
"I forgot some of the little ways to get advantages," Grimaldi said. "I just try to stick with what I'm good at and that's stick speed."
From the beginning, Grimaldi said he embraced the move.
"It gives me a new dimension," he said. "It gives me more opportunities to play in all facets. It gets me out there more."
And the more Grimaldi, the better for UND.