The last thing Marco Rossi expected to hear at his first NHL training camp was that he had flirted with death.
He knew he wasn’t feeling his absolute best upon joining the Minnesota Wild in January 2021, and he knew he felt sluggish after being diagnosed with COVID-19 in November 2020, but he never would have fathomed how dire his situation actually was. Only weeks prior to camp, he had captained Austria at the World Junior Championship, so when he was called prior to his first practice with the Wild and told he was being held out, he was curious about what was going on.
At first, he questioned how long he was going to be sidelined. Was it one day? Was it two? Drafted ninth overall by the Wild only months earlier, Rossi was eager to get started. But doctors informed him this wasn’t going to be a short layoff. Medical testing had uncovered abnormalities in his blood work, and Rossi was later diagnosed with myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle that can reduce its ability to pump or cause an abnormal heartbeat. Then came the wake-up call. “When doctors are telling you that if I would have played one more game at the world juniors, you could be dead, if you hear that, then you are thinking so much,” Rossi said. “It was the scariest time of my life, even for my family, for everyone.”
What followed was a period of acute mental stress intensified by the limitations he was given. By the end of January, he had been sent from Minnesota – where he was boarding with compatriot and former NHLer Thomas Vanek – to Austria to recover, but there was little he could do to take his mind off of things. Almost all activity was off the table. Sure, he could stretch and take short walks, but the 19-year-old, who prior to COVID and his myocarditis diagnosis had been in peak physical condition, couldn’t go far without his heart beginning to race. Meanwhile, doctors were questioning Rossi’s athletic future. Given the severity of his condition, there was concern he would never be able to play elite-level hockey again.
In late August, he suited up for the Austrian national team in exhibition contests against Hungary and Italy, scoring his first goal since a March 2020 tally with the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s. He then skated in all three of Austria’s Olympic qualification games, registering an assist against Belarus. “The first few games were special because I hadn’t played so many games in such a long time,” Rossi said. “At the beginning, it was good to get used to it again, with the games and the intensity and everything. I was lucky that I played five games. And after the fifth one, I felt really, really good. My confidence was already back.”
But it’s not just back. It’s growing. In Minnesota for prospect camp in mid-September, Rossi said he felt more comfortable and self-assured with each successive shift during the first of two games against the Chicago Blackhawks. And when asked to assess his own game and what he feels can propel him from prospect camp to an impact NHLer in the 2021-22 campaign, he’s refreshingly honest. “My compete level, my 200-foot game,” he said. “I play really good on defense and offense. My smartness on the ice. My passes. I’m a good playmaker and I have a really good shot.”
Rossi’s true X-factor, however, might be his attitude. If he’s learned anything over the past several months, it’s to live in the moment, and his experience and understanding of how close he was to losing more than just his on-ice career has forced him to grow up in a hurry. It’s also given him a level of perspective that’s rare in many players, let alone those his age.
Even once those worries subsided, however, Rossi faced a unique set of challenges. Given the all-clear in May, he got back out on the ice but was met with creeping doubts. “ ‘Can I really go 100 percent now? Can I train 100 percent again?’ ” Rossi recalled thinking. “At the beginning, maybe you feel something, your heart, and you’re just scared. Thinking, ‘Oh my god, my heart, is this bad right now or not?’ You don’t know these answers.”
Kept under the watchful eye of medical professionals, and with tests every few days to ensure there were no red flags, Rossi’s uncertainty about his health began to dissipate, and he fell into old on-ice rhythms. His training picked up, his conditioning came back, and Rossi was driven to prove he could not only return but return better than he had ever been.
“It sounds crazy, but I’m just thankful to be alive and be healthy,” Rossi said. “That’s the most important thing. Before, when I wasn’t injured or I had anything, you’re not thinking too much about being healthy to be thankful enough. But after that, I’m just appreciating even more every day when I can step on the ice.”Sourcehttps://chinaicehockey.net