It won't be long until NHL teams realize just how dangerously good Marco Rossi is. But a long-time friend of his learned it the hard way playing mini sticks as a kid.
"I'd often run upstairs crying with a broken wrist."
Vinzenz Rohrer knows all too well how hard of an opponent Rossi can have. The two grew up as best friends in the small town of Feldkirch, Austria, with a population of just over 30,000. It's described as a medieval own bordering on the Switzerland and Liechtenstein border. Rossi is the only NHLer to come from the town, but Rohrer hopes to change that before too long.
Austria is having a bit of a hockey surge in recent years, partly due to Rossi's emergence as one of the best prospects in the game. Austria made the 2021 World Junior Championship and, partly thanks to Rossi's emergence as a top prospect, the country continues to stay relevant in the hockey landscape.
Rohrer never played competitive hockey in Austria, instead traveling a few hours to play in Switzerland. Prior to making the move to Canada, Rohrer spent time with Zurich's junior program, recording 47 points in 26 games as the U-17 team's captain last year. Moving across the world to live in a capital city with a population sitting at just over a million residents is a bit of a culture shock.
But thankfully, he had the guidance of his good old buddy, Rossi. The pair grew up playing mini sticks in their basements for years, sharing the hockey journey together. So when the Ottawa 67s selected Rohrer with the 27th pick in the 2021 CHL Import Draft, he was able to lean on Rossi's input on life in the big city.
"He explained what it was like in Ottawa, how good the environment is, how good the coaches are," Rohrer said.
But let's get off the ice for a bit.
Rohrer is an avid pianist, especially when it comes to playing John Legend songs. His music tastes are varied -- "I could never be the team DJ" -- but he's mainly a pop fan. But he's willing to listen, or learn, any music, and it's something he has grown to love even more in his teenage years. Rohrer likes keeping busy in his free time, a theme that surrounds him no matter his interests.
Before Rohrer ever made his mark on the junior hockey landscape, the 2004-born prospect made his mark as a junior national tennis champion back home. Rohrer even views himself as a better tennis player. His brother still plays Tennis, but for Rohrer, hockey was his dream, his passion. It's what he wanted to do.
"In tennis, you can control everything on your own," Rohrer said. "That's what I like about it. But on the other hand, I just loved the team life, the bus travels with the team, winning as a team."
That decision to stick with the much colder indoor sport might pay off. Rohrer is projected to go in the first three rounds of the 2022 NHL draft, with the potential to join fellow 2022 draft prospect Marco Kasper as part of a small contingent that was drafted to the NHL.
The 2020 draft had three -- Rossi, Thimo Nickl and Ben Baumgartner. Before that, there hadn't been a player selected since 2006, when Michael Brabner and Andreas Nodl were taken. Throw in Christoph Brandner (2002) and Thomas Vanek (2003), and Austria actually has a decent track record when it comes to converting prospects into NHLers, with five of the past seven Austrians selected playing at least one game -- and Nickl and Baumbartner might not be too far away. In total, 15 have been selected, with the likelihood of that becoming 17 before the 2022 draft hits the halfway point. Some scouts believe Luca Auer, a forward playing with Red Bull's hockey program back in Austria, could be a late-round steal, too. That would be 18.
Rohrer takes solace in medidation. He enjoys meditating before heading to the rink and describes himself as a relaxed individual. Rohrer spends much of his free time reading philosophy books -- English writer Alan Watts is his favorite -- and other literature.
"I'm the kind of guy that lives in -- it might sound a bit romantic -- the moment," Rohrer said. "Probably a year ago, I didn't know what the OHL was. Two months ago, I didn't even know what the CHL Top Prospect Game was."
But he learned quickly. Rohrer skated with Team White at the annual prospect showcase, pitting some of the top 2022 draft talent together in front of a nearly packed building in Kitchener, Ont. It's a far cry from his old hockey home, traveling the beautiful country of Switzerland with the Zurich Lions junior program.
As a player, Rohrer is a quick skater that can start and stop with ease while maintaining good balance. His acceleration puts him above the rest, especially in a short burst to win a puck battle. Rohrer is a confident puck-mover that is willing to go into odd-man rushes with a head of steam because he does a good job of getting the puck where he wants it. Even for a smaller player at 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds, Rohrer plays a physical game and brings energetic presence teams are looking for deeper in their lineup.
Rohrer's first season has been a success. He's leading the 67s in scoring with 21 goals and 41 points and sits third among U-18 European skaters in the OHL -- something that's not only tough to do, but even tougher when your team is one point clear of last place in a division featuring Shane Wright and Mason McTavish.
The sport is continuing to grow in Austria, a small, but dedicated hockey nation compared to the world's biggest powers. But with more players finding success at higher stages, whether it be the NHL or the World Junior Championship, it'll continue to grow. Rossi might be the one with all the attention, and Kasper might be the more hyped prospect for the 2022 draft, but ignore Rohrer at your own peril.