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Backchecking: Surviving 9/11 gave former NHLer Rob Cimetta a new outlook on life

After playing 103 NHL games, Rob Cimetta finished his pro hockey career in Germany. (Photo by Gerd Scheewel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

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After playing 103 NHL games, Rob Cimetta finished his pro hockey career in Germany. (Photo by Gerd Scheewel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

BY ROBIN SHORT

Every now and again, seven years after that horrible September day, Rob Cimetta closes his eyes and sees the silhouettes of heroes. The grizzled faces of New York’s bravest, climbing into their rescue gear, about to walk through death’s doorway.

“We’re running out and they’re coming in,” recalled the former NHLer of a meeting cut short by the World Trade Center alarm bells on Sept. 11, 2001. “I remember seeing a jet engine in the middle of the street, like a 100 yards from the building and we finally figure out what happened.”

Literally 10 minutes later, the building starts to come down. We knew all those guys were in there.”

Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives at the Twin Towers that day. Cimetta, the former junior hockey scoring star and erstwhile first round NHL draft pick, was almost one of them.

Eleven years after his last NHL game, Cimetta had been summoned to the Big Apple for training at Morgan Stanley’s head office, the financial company he had joined four months earlier. He was on the 61st floor in Tower II on the second day of what was supposed to be a two-week training exercise when the alarm sounded.

“We all started down into the stair well and about 20 minutes later, I was on the 42nd or 43rd floor and there were announcements on the PA that everything was ok and we could proceed back to our offices.

“About five seconds later, the second plane hit our building and it was just like an earthquake. The whole building shook for the next 40 minutes as we tried to get to the bottom.”

Cimetta, of course, eventually made it outside where the horror was obvious.

“The minute I got to the street, I called my wife and then I started walking,” he said. “I remember looking back and seeing all the activity around the buildings. They couldn’t have gotten away (when the towers collapsed).”

Long before that horrific day, Cimetta was a junior hockey scoring sensation with the Ontario League’s Marlboros in his native Toronto. The Bruins tabbed him with the 18th overall selection in the June, 1988 draft. The following season, Cimetta led the Marlboros in scoring with 55 goals and 102 points.

Cimetta led Team Canada in scoring at the 1989 World Junior Championship in Anchorage, Ala., where Canada finished fourth.

He had a taste of the NHL as a 19-year-old, scoring a pair of goals in seven games for the Bruins. He was excited about his debut as a full-time NHLer the next year in 1989-90, but Cimetta didn’t get the ice time he’d expected and settled for eight goals and 17 points in 47 games.

Boston’s coach at the time, Mike Milbury, wasn’t a fan of Cimetta and the youngster was sent packing to his hometown Leafs after one year in Beantown.

“I thought I had played decent, but he didn’t seem to want to give me the opportunity and in hindsight I regret having forced their hand a bit,” Cimetta said. “I probably should have stuck it out, gone down and spent my time in the minors and matured. I think that would have made a difference in my career.”

Cimetta split the next year between Toronto and Newmarket of the American League.

It was the same story in 1991-92, Cimetta’s final NHL season.

“I got an opportunity in Toronto, but then I started getting a lot of injuries and then there were management changes,” he said. “Cliff Fletcher came in and cleaned house.
 
“If I look back, I wished I’d stayed in Boston and stuck it out. If I had been more patient, I think I might have had a different career.”

Following a six-year stint in Germany, Cimetta called it quits and headed to Florida where his wife’s family was located. He spent about three years with Morgan Stanley before returning to his native Toronto where he’s now involved in residential and commercial real estate development.

Cimetta has settled into life after hockey, though sore knees prevent him from getting on the ice much anymore.

“It’s a tough transition,” he said. “You’re thrown out in to the real world and if guys haven’t given much thought as to what they want to do, it’s an adjustment.”

Cimetta, 37, is a little older and a lot wiser than the brash, young hockey stud who locked horns with the Boston Bruins brass. And if a near-death experience on Sept. 11, 2001 taught him anything, it’s to not get too worked up over the little things.

“In every-day circumstances, people get so wound up and angry and upset about what I now consider to be very trivial things,” he said. “Sept. 11 put things into perspective for me. When you’re relaxed, you’re happier.”

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