Rossi out to make Wild roster after season lost to COVID-19 complications

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Marco Rossi said he’s intent on securing a roster spot with the Minnesota Wild after missing last season because of complications from COVID-19.

“My goal is to make the NHL,” the 19-year-old center said Wednesday. “I know how good I am. I know I can make it. I would say I have to prove myself. You have to earn that spot. It’s really hard. But first I’m focusing on my rookie camp. We have two games ahead of us. Not thinking too far ahead of me. Just thinking about this week, day by day, and to give my best every day.”

Rossi, the No. 9 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, is one of 26 Wild prospects participating in the 2021 Tom Kurvers Prospect Showcase, which will feature two scrimmages against Chicago Blackhawks prospects, on Friday and on Sunday.

Rossi led the Ontario Hockey League with 120 points (39 goals, 81 assists) in 56 games for Ottawa in 2019-20 and was expected to make a push for a spot on the Wild roster last season. With the start of the 2020-21 NHL season delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, Minnesota loaned him to Zurich SC of the National League, but he was diagnosed with COVID-19 in mid-November after playing one game in Switzerland’s top professional league.

He played four games for Austria at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton in late December before being diagnosed with myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, after reporting to Wild training camp in early January. He returned to Austria to recover with family and resumed hockey training in June.

“It was scary,” Rossi said. “You hear the doctors saying, ‘We don’t know if you’re ever going to reach your goal or ever be like you were before.’

“… At the beginning, I was thinking too much about my heart. The first time the doctor told me, ‘You’re fine,’ I didn’t realize it. It was like, ‘OK, now I can really go 100 percent again?’ It was really weird for me because when I go hard and maybe feel something a little bit, then I was just scared right away. You’re thinking so much. I had a really good team around me and a lot of good doctors.

“At the beginning, like every five days, I did some medical testing just for my mental part that I know, ‘OK. I’m clear. I’m 100 percent recovered from that.’ I think mentally that was really important.”

Rossi on Wednesday passed a physical with Wild doctors, who will remain in contact with his team of doctors in Austria to ensure his health and safety.

Minnesota (35-16-5) finished third in the eight-team Honda West Division last season before losing in seven games to the Vegas Golden Knights in the best-of-7 Stanley Cup First Round. It is looking for a top-line center who can keep up with forwards Kevin Fiala and Kirill Kaprizov, who won the 2021 Calder Trophy voted as the NHL rookie of the year but remains a restricted free agent with training camp set to start Sept. 23.

The Wild hope Rossi can play that role.

“He’s awesome,” Minnesota forward prospect Matt Boldy said Friday. “First time I met him was last week here, we’ve been here for a week working out, skating and stuff like that. I think he’s an awesome kid. He’s really smart.

“Coming back to the bench and talk to him about stuff and seeing what he sees, he sees the ice really well, and he’s an unbelievable skater, which is his biggest asset. He can turn on a dime. He gets away from everyone really well so, combining all those together with how smart he is, makes it pretty easy to go out there and make plays and score some goals.”

Rossi said the support he has received from the Wild has been a huge boost.

“I feel a lot of confidence,” he said. “I know a lot of people around here are supporting me, and that gives me more confidence. I just love being here. I feel really comfortable here. … When I was injured, my passion was to play hockey. That’s my passion. I love to play hockey. After such a long time not playing hockey, you realize how much you love the sport. Especially right now when I’m out there, I always appreciate more to be out there because I’m thankful I can play hockey again.”

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