Some teammates call him ‘Goose Goose,’ others call him ‘Ross the Boss.’ His coach Andre Tourigny simply calls him Marco. Most importantly for fans of the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s, rookie center Marco Rossi’s name has been showing up on plenty of scoresheets.
Rossi, selected 18th overall in the 2018 CHL import draft, has taken the OHL by storm in his first season in North America, with 13 goals and 27 points through 23 games before sustaining an elbow injury that figured to keep him out of the lineup until the new year. He’s not eligible for the NHL draft until 2020 because his Sept. 23 birthday is eight days past the cutoff for the 2019 draft. But he’s already creating significant buzz thanks to his hockey IQ, lethal shot and willingness to battle down low, despite his 5-foot-9 frame. “I don’t think he’s been knocked down once this season, and he’s always in the corners,” said 67’s linemate Austen Keating. “He’s really strong on his feet. He works hard in the gym, and that’s kind of a guy you look up to, even though he’s much younger than a lot of us.”
Rossi was born in Feldkirch, Austria, a city of 30,000 near the border with Switzerland and Liechtenstein. His father, Michael, played pro in Austria for more than a decade and put Marco on skates at age three.
Last season, at 16, Rossi played mostly with the GCK Lions Elite Jr. A club in Zurich, Switzerland, where many teammates were 18, 19 and 20. He also played 18 games with the second-tier pro Lions team. That experience in a professional league helped Rossi realize he was ready for North America. “I wanted to learn Canadian hockey,” he said. “It was always a dream to play here. I thought I was ready, and I am. You have less time compared to European ice, but it wasn’t a real big adjustment. Just different hockey.”
Rossi didn’t find the back of the net right off the hop. In his first six games, he registered just two assists. But his coach wasn’t worried. “If you look at every European player who comes over,” Tourigny said, “Nico Hischier didn’t score in his first four or five games, (Nikolaj) Ehlers scored three goals in eight weeks or something like that…It took a bit of time to adjust. After, when they get used to it, they take off.”
Though he just turned 17 in September, Rossi often takes defensive-zone faceoffs and frequently kills penalties. “Everyone knows him as the goal-scorer, the playmaker, the point-getter, but I think what makes him so successful is his two-way game,” Keating said. “He blocks shots, he’s in the corners, he finishes checks. He does all the little things right.”
With the 2020 NHL draft more than a year away, there is still room for Rossi’s game to grow. By then, the hockey world could be calling him “first-round draft pick.”
This story appears in the January 28, 2019 of The Hockey News magazine.