From: Twin Cities
Some good news on the Rossi front as well.
From The Athletic:
By Michael Russo 4h ago 80
Marco Rossi has scored many bigger goals in his life than a first-period tying goal in a friendly match against Italy.
Heck, this is a blue-chip prospect who in 2019-20 became the first European in history to lead the OHL in scoring and the second European import in OHL history to be named MVP.
But after ripping that power-play snipe from inside the right faceoff circle over the weekend, a flood of feelings overcame the teenager’s body.
“It was a very special goal and very emotional one,” Rossi, drafted ninth by the Minnesota Wild in the 2020 NHL Draft, told The Athletic on Monday – one day after he played his second exhibition game in as many days for what amounted to his first game action since last December.
After Rossi was embraced by his teammates and skated his way toward the bench to bump gloves with the rest of his fellow Austrian Olympic hopefuls, Rossi said, “All the memories came into my mind from the past. I went through a really tough time. When I scored that goal, I was so relieved. The goal means a lot to me because it gives me more confidence that I’m healthy again.”
Make no mistake, Rossi vows that he is back. As he has tweeted and posted on Instagram as his new mantra, Rossi thinks he is #betterthanbefore this unexpected, stressful yearlong nightmare that threatened not only his career, but his life.
More than six hours away from Vienna in his hometown of Feldkirch, Rossi’s parents, Michael and Claudia, were overcome by a flood of emotion as they watched Sunday’s game on television.
They thought about everything Marco had endured these last 8 ½ months since receiving that stunning myocarditis diagnosis last January by Wild doctors and a team of medical experts after arriving in Minnesota from captaining his country in the World Junior Championship.
They remembered how their energetic son, who despite his young age is already legendary in hockey circles for his almost freakish, exhaustive on- and off-ice workouts, was forced by doctors to do literally nothing for months upon months.
And Marco’s parents thought about the real downtrodden times, like the string of gut-wrenching evenings last winter when their frightened son, so terrified that he wouldn’t wake up in the morning, begged his parents with tears in his eyes to sleep in his room next to his bed in case his heart failed while he was asleep.
“It was really hard,” Michael Rossi recalled. “For two, three weeks, I slept maybe 10 or 20 hours in a week.”
So, for Marco’s proud parents, “Watching Marco was again a pleasure,” Michael said. “It opened my heart to see my son can do what he wants again, and that’s playing hockey.”
Marco Rossi is currently on the Austria-Slovakia border in Bratislava after helping lead the Austrians to a pair of wins in friendlies last week against Hungary and Italy. There are three Olympic qualifiers about to start in Oslo, Norway; Riga, Latvia; and Bratislava, Slovakia. The Austrians play Slovakia on Thursday, Belarus on Friday and Poland on Sunday in their group.
The winner of each group takes all by advancing to the Winter Olympics next February in Beijing.
You can bet Wild fans will be rooting from afar for the budding star who gives hope to a franchise starved for a No. 1 center.
“It would be a dream to play in the Olympics,” Rossi said during a father-son interview with The Athletic earlier this month. “I’m feeling really good. Like a completely different person. I mean, I almost went through a full rebuild this summer. But now I’m at that point that I’m like 100 percent healthy. I’m in top shape and even better shape than last year. So it looks perfect for me. I feel good, my heart looks and feels good. I’m really happy after a very scary time.
“I’m really excited to come over to Minnesota now, finally.”
That’ll happen Sept. 4.
Rossi’s so gung-ho about giving himself the best chance to make the team that he’s arriving in the Twin Cities well in advance of the Wild’s Sept. 17-19 prospect tournament against the Chicago Blackhawks. Despite a big doctor’s appointment a few weeks ago that offered further evidence that his heart was completely back to normal after eight weeks of heavy training, Rossi knows he’ll need another head-to-toe physical from the Wild for full medical clearance.
Rossi also wants to arrive early so he can skate with and get to know his eventual teammates, from Wild veterans like captain Jared Spurgeon to rookies like Matt Boldy, Adam Beckman and Calen Addison. Rossi also wants to skate with skills instructor Andy Ness and work out in the gym with the Wild’s strength and conditioning coach, Sean Skahan. Most importantly, Rossi wants to get comfortable in his new surroundings so he can soar into his first training camp at full flight.
Despite barely playing meaningful hockey since March 2020, and general manager Bill Guerin usually conservative when it comes to rushing even healthy prospects to the big show (i.e. Boldy last spring), Rossi’s intent on playing in Minnesota this fall, not the farm team in Des Moines, Iowa.
He’ll initially live with Thomas Vanek, his mentor and one of the most famous Austrian hockey players in history, then move into a hotel once the rest of the Wild prospects come to town.
For Michael and Claudia Rossi, the fact Vanek lives 20 minutes from the arena offers one giant sigh of relief.
Other than via text messages, Marco Rossi never met Vanek in person until last January. Yet, Vanek and his family took Rossi in.
Helplessly across a big, blue ocean from his parents, it was Vanek who took care of Rossi when he was diagnosed with a heart condition that doctors told Rossi was potentially one game from turning catastrophic. It was Vanek who accompanied Rossi to daily, doctor’s appointments that sometimes lasted eight hours over a three-week span. It was Vanek who continually called Rossi’s parents to update them and to reassure them.
“It was a hard time for Marco and for us being so far from the situation, and Thomas was like a second dad,” Michael Rossi said. “He was always phoning us and telling us everything is good when we were very, very down and very, very worried. I cannot thank Thomas enough. He’s just a very, very nice guy and has a very nice family. Thomas and Thomas’ wife and kids were supporting Marco so hard.”
In hindsight, Rossi remembers how absolutely exhausted he was during the world juniors. A month earlier, he played one game for the ZSC Lions in Zurich before testing positive for COVID-19. He was ready to return to the lineup when a team outbreak forced a shutdown. He’d never play again for the Lions, but he arrived in Edmonton, Alberta, for the world juniors never feeling himself.
His fatigue and stamina just kept getting worse and worse. You could see it on the ice. He looked pale and didn’t have much oomph, and suddenly the kid with endless energy and incredible workout and practice habits couldn’t even practice anymore.
He’d only play the games.
When he reported to Minnesota for training camp after the tournament, doctors discovered that his heart was inflamed as a byproduct of catching COVID-19.
He was completely shut down. He was literally forbidden to do anything that would get his heart rate up for several weeks.
“I compare it to trying to tell a 2-year-old that just learned how to run, to not run,” said Dylan Stanley, Rossi’s individual on-ice coach.
By mid-May, Rossi was given full clearance to resume training and skating.
On June 5, during an emotional moment for both father and son, Marco stepped foot on the ice in a rink in Lustenau, Austria, 15 kilometers from his home.
His father, who played professionally for 20 years in Austria and used to drive his son in all hours of the day and night to Zurich, Switzerland, to skate and train, rented his son a sheet of ice for eight weeks.
“Marco is a workaholic with his training,” Michael Rossi said. “There’s no discussion with that at all. He wants to do what he wants, and his personal coach (Max Cavada) is same crazy as Marco. They work really, really hard.”
There’s a team of people around Rossi beyond his dad; his supportive girlfriend, Stefanie; and agent, Serge Payer.
There’s Cavada, the guy in many videos pushing Rossi to the extreme in all of his intense, to say the least, off-ice workouts.
There’s Stanley, the Canadian-born player who not only trains dozens of amateur and professional hockey players from Austria and Switzerland, but he is also the 37-year-old captain and development, conditioning and skills coach for Rossi’s hometown professional team in Feldkirch.
And, back in June, Nate DiCasmirro, who played at Burnsville (Minn.) High School and St. Cloud State, spent a few days on the ice with Rossi, as well as former NHLer Rob Shremp, who spent some time on the ice with Rossi in July.
“It’s hard to explain because there’s always people thinking the father is very crazy, what I’m doing renting him ice, but that’s why Rossi is so driven and I know he needs that,” Michael Rossi said.
Incidentally, DiCasmirro has since been hired as the Iowa Wild’s assistant coach. Guerin said it’s just a coincidence he was hired by Minnesota, that DiCasmirro’s playing background and experience as a skills coach was why he landed in Iowa.
And while Rossi is happy for DiCasmirro, his goal is solely on “Option A, and that’s for me to play in the NHL.”
Rossi skates with a lot of North American pros, from former Wild players Nino Niederreiter and Timo Meier, to Pius Suter and Nico Hischier. And Stanley always comes away impressed with Rossi’s work ethic and ability even going up against some of the NHL’s best from Austria and Switzerland.
“Marco’s desire to want to play the game and learn the game is incredible,” Stanley said. “Let’s just say, he’s got a full tank of gas on him. The amount of energy he has is incredible. Just in the month of July, we had four weeks of ice, and he refused to not go on the ice, twice a day. And when I say we went on the ice, I’m saying we went hard. And he wanted it, and he wanted more, and he wanted more.
“As a coach, he challenges you, which I personally love. … The one thing that blows people away when they come out and watch a training session is how high of a speed he can do things at. I don’t mean straight lines. I mean, if we throw some variables at him, like a coach that’s moving or swinging a stick, he does not slow down. He would rather break the drill and wreck something than slow down.
“I think that’s why he’s been able to separate himself. You’ve seen all these young guys coming up. They’re fast, and they can explode, and they play the game at a high level. But at the same time, they miss some of those little details once they get to the pro game that are necessary. Marco, that’s not them, and it’s why he’s going to really make the step to the next level.”
(Video courtesy of Michael Rossi)
When Rossi first got on the ice in June, he had a list of things he wanted to work on to get the feeling back after five months off the ice.
“Amazingly, it was really quick. Like after one week practice I already felt normal again,” Rossi said. “And then from that point, we just had one thing in my mind was be better than last year. That was my goal. And after four or five weeks, I can see big improvements. …
“Now I understand why coaches always say (rest) is a weapon. I have a different view from that, too, now from my recovery. Now, I can understand it because I feel so much better than I did even last year.”
Rossi said his objective with his high-intensity training is to condition his body to have the same energy level the first minute of a game as the last: “Like, at the end of practice, I’m still full of energy and hungry for more.”
What blew Stanley away was how quickly the rust scraped off.
“He gets very mad at himself when he can’t do something at the level he thinks he can do it at,” Stanley said. “He’d be all down on himself, and I’m sitting back just watching him and amazed at how quickly he got back his explosiveness. Was there some rustiness early? Maybe with his hands or his shot. But you know what? Within a week, he looked like Marco.
“We progressed him over that five-week span with bringing out different players and getting him into battle situations and all that stuff and pushed him in all the aspects that he needs to be ready for. I’ve got to give (the San Jose Sharks’) Timo Meier a lot of credit. He’d always be out there with us and Timo’s a big boy, very powerful. A different style of player than Marco. But the two of them, when they were going at it, it didn’t look like Marco had taken a break and Timo really did that purposely. He tried to help Marco, and he did.”
(Video courtesy of Michael Rossi)
Michael Rossi is thankful his son is playing again, but most of all, he is thankful Marco is healthy. He tried to remain positive but deep down, he was so nervous for his son.
Not just that his NHL dreams could be dashed, but that he’d live a long and fruitful life.
“But I can’t thank Bill Guerin and the Wild doctors enough,” he said. “Marco’s coming to a very good organization with all the good doctors with a great GM. I can’t tell you how many times Bill Guerin was calling us on Zoom. He took a lot of time talking with us even while his team was playing the season.”
Stanley can’t wait to watch Rossi fight in training camp for a spot in the Wild’s lineup.
What could help is the Wild’s obvious need for a center, but Stanley knows that after so much time away from the game the Wild might want to be safe and have Rossi work with the coaches in Iowa rather than thrusting him essentially from major juniors in Canada into the NHL against grown men.
“But, with this kid, I would not bet against him,” Stanley said. “I just wouldn’t. I think once everybody gets to know him, you wouldn’t put money on the other way. Now, if Minnesota itself decides that game time in the minors is a good thing for him to start, that’s a management decision, right?
“But when I sit back and look at it, as a coach, even if I wasn’t working with Marco, I’d have a tough time betting against the kid. … If he can get comfortable in that short amount of time (of training camp) and figure out who he’s having to go against to get ice time, he’s going to push him to the brink. He’s going to come hard, he ain’t going to take a day off. … To me, the only thing that might slow Marco down is stuff he can’t control and that’s organizational philosophy.
“Minnesota’s getting a kid that’s very hungry. He still is always out to prove to people, ‘No, I’m better than what people think I am.’”
Rossi is also unfazed by all the rumors that, if the Wild were to trade for disgruntled Buffalo Sabres star center Jack Eichel, Rossi could be heading the other way.
“Of course, I’ve seen that a lot on the Internet and people asking me, but I always say the same thing: ‘I can’t control these things,’” Rossi said. “I don’t want to think too much about that because that’s just going to waste my energy. I want to focus on things where I can control, and that’s my practice and workouts and things that hopefully show Minnesota they don’t need to trade me.”
Rossi, coincidentally, will celebrate his 20th birthday on the official first day of his first National Hockey League training camp on Sept. 23.
He cannot wait to try to make the team.
“I know I haven’t played a lot of games in the last year, year and a half, but now that I can see my fitness level and my shape, I know I’m better in shape than a lot of NHL players,” Rossi said. “So I see no doubt about that I can play in the NHL. I know I can play there. I know how good I am, but I have to prove myself in a training camp that I’m ready for that. I know it’s going to be up to me to show I’m ready to play right away.”
That he’s #betterthanbefore.