Fall has finally made its warm greeting into Canada and you know what that means. It’s hockey season! After a dreadfully hot summer it felt great getting into the crisp atmosphere of a hockey arena again. And I started my 2018/2019 season with quite the barn burner.
The Ottawa 67s and Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League graced the City of Cornwall with their exhibition presence on Labour Day. It was the first time the OHL had returned to Cornwall since 1993 when the Royals moved to Newmarket.
I didn’t think I was going to hop into scouting mode for an exhibition game but after a couple minutes into the first, I was kicking myself for not bringing a notepad.
Only one player really stood out to me and that’s unusual. I’ll usually pick a couple guys on each team to look at but this time was different. I could only focus on one kid because he was just that good.
I went into this game blind. I’ve been away from the major junior world for a bit now so I didn’t know who was who on the roster. I didn’t know who to look for and I didn’t know if any of these kids were drafted. What I do know is that one kid stole the show.
Marco Rossi is a 16-year-old centre from Feldkirch, Austria.
You read that right.
And you know what? This kid is going places.
Unbeknownst to me, Rossi was selected 18th overall in this year’s import draft by this 67s. He committed early which tells me he’s serious about his future. Picking the OHL at an early age is a hard-enough decision to make for North American skaters let alone somebody from across the pond. Commitment is half the battle.
What I saw on the ice was something I’ve seen lacking a lot in today’s junior game. One is hunger and the other is a hockey mind. Marco Rossi was the hungriest guy the ice. He never stopped from puck drop to the game ending horn. Lazy he is not a word in his vocabulary.
He created space if needed and played with his head. Always thinking. He was constantly moving, looking for any opportunity to present itself. He went hard to the net and was one of the only few on both teams who consistently got in the front of it.
It seemed to me that his hockey knowledge is vastly wise for his age. The maturity of play from this 16 year old is astounding. I mean, he still looks like a baby. Even with that white turtleneck tucked underneath.
At 5’9 and according to Elite Prospects, 156 pounds, Rossi just flew up and down the ice. There is no worry about cement skates here. His skating ability is right up there on the list of his greatest assets. His edges are so clean, crisp and full of speed. Don’t even get me started on his back check. Which brings me back to the hunger. His hunger for the game made everybody else look a couple speeds slower then normal. Kingston was slow to begin with so they looked like molasses out there whenever Rossi was around.
Another thing I liked about him was that he really wasn’t afraid to throw a check and follow through. So many guys don’t finish their checks these days so it was refreshing to see. There is definitely a hint of the North American style play in his game already.
Rossi clocked in the first goal of the 3-2 shootout win for the 67s. Again, Rossi made the space and the play for himself and provided quite the stick handling procedure and accurate shot. Rossi liked to shoot in this game so it will be interesting to see how he adapts in the OHL. Last season he notched 51 points in 34 games with the GCK U20 Lions in the Elite JR. A league over in Switzerland. That looks great on paper but it might be difficult to translate that into high numbers on North American soil.
Hockey prodigy’s coming out of Austria are not unheard of but they are few and far between. Austria has been a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation since 1912 when they introduced their men’s team. They haven’t claimed a medal since the men claimed bronze in 1947. They are at almost 10,000 players registered with 75 outdoor and indoor rinks in the country. Compare that with Canada who has 631,000 registered players and 8,300 outdoor and indoor rinks. You do the math.
The National Hockey League is home to a few Austrians. Thomas Vanek, Michael Grabner and Michael Raffl were likely dreamt about by a young Rossi as he skated on the rink. Is it premature to compare him to these fellow Austrian greats? I’d say yes if we were comparing styles of play. But if we’re just talking chances of making a GOOD career out of if? This early snapshot says he’s definitely on the radar. He’s already being lauded as a high pick in the 2020 draft.
What is going to help is he got picked up by a great team. Last year Ottawa was running near the bottom rungs in the standings. That’s a terrible position for the team but it’s great news for a skilled player. More ice time to go around.
I’m hoping for the best with Marco Rossi. He got me excited not only about hockey again but major junior hockey in general. Let’s see how he gets settled with the atmosphere of being on a Canadian hockey team and everything that goes with it. Hopefully his energy and determination will translate well onto the scoresheet. He is a much-needed breath of fresh air on the ice.
Hey, has anybody made Marco Polo/Barber Pole joke yet?? Get at it Ottawa 67s fans!!