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Rather incredibly, only a handful of players are two-time winners of the 76-year old Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL’s most outstanding player.
And sorry Ottawa, but 67’s centre Marco Rossi has no interest in being the sixth.
After earning 62 per cent of the votes for the league MVP award from writers and broadcasters, Central Scouting Bureau’s No. 6-ranked prospect off North American teams made it clear he now has his sights set on the next level.
“Who knows, I can’t make the decision,” Rossi said when asked about what league he sees himself playing in next season during a Zoom call Thursday from his home in Austria. “It depends on the team, where I get drafted. They’re going to tell me where I can play.
“In my opinion, I’m not focusing on playing in the junior hockey league anymore. I try to focus on pro hockey.”
He certainly has nothing left to prove in junior.
To join an impressive list of six players who won the Tilson before they were drafted — namely Connor McDavid, Tyler Seguin, John Tavares, David Legwand, Eric Lindros and Jack Valiquette — Rossi was the top-scoring junior in Canada. His 120 points (including 39 goals) produced in 56 games gave him the OHL scoring title by nine points over Saginaw Spirit centre Cole Perfetti, who played 61 games and is ranked fifth, one slot ahead of Rossi, by CBS.
Rossi also led the league in assists (81) and plus-minus (plus-69), while winning 58 per cent of his faceoffs and proving to be a valuable penalty killer for coach André Tourigny’s top-ranked team.
“It’s always very important for me and for my game to be as complete as I could be,” said the 5-9, 183-pound left-handed shot. “(To have) respect for the defensive zone and offensive zone.”
Pressed for the individual accomplishment of which he is proudest in this award-winning season, Rossi mentioned no numbers.
“Getting better every day and improving every day,” he said. “That was the most important thing for me and for my development.”
Those aren’t just idle words. Anybody who has watched Rossi practise knows he takes every second of the sessions very seriously.
“I’m probably one of the hardest competing guys I know,” said Rossi, who had 29 goals and 65 points (along with a plus-51 that makes him plus-120 in 109 career OHL games) as a rookie. “I just hate to lose. I try to win every situation I can. Especially in practice, on the ice. I hate to just practise easy or anything. I try to make every practice the best of me.”
There’s been no practising on any ice surface for more than two months because of the pandemic, but Rossi has maintained a two-a-day training schedule with workouts in the morning and afternoon. Included is some impressive tight-rope walking he does for “the core and the balance.”
As for that competitive nature, Rossi says it comes from his father, Michael, who was a 20-year pro in Austria.
“That’s why I played hockey, because of my dad,” said Rossi. “I remember I was three years old and I saw my dad playing hockey … I never wanted to leave the hockey rink when he had practice. I wanted to go on the ice. I just didn’t want to leave.
“Since that, I always wanted to be a hockey player.”
Like his teammates, Rossi is obviously disappointed the season was ended not by an opponent but the novel coronavirus, as the 67’s were favourites to represent Ontario in the Memorial Cup.
Much of their success stemmed from the production of their top line, which saw Rossi between overagers Austen Keating and Joseph Garreffa. Combined, they totalled an attention-grabbing 299 points in 168 games.
While only two of them were old enough to break down each game over a cold one in a pub, Rossi said the line did a lot of communication during games.
“We were just a good chemistry line,” he said. “The biggest thing is we were just talking a lot. We were helping support each other.”
Other words that have helped Rossi are the highly publicized praises of Rimouski’s Alexis Lafrenière and Sudbury’s Quinton Byfield, the two top-ranked players in the draft.
“Of course (media) were talking so much about them, it just motivated me, I just wanted to be better than them,” said Rossi, who has gone up against Byfield but has only seen Lafrenière on TV. “I was watching highlights about him, but not only him. I was focusing on me.”
Rossi speaks very fondly of his two years in Ottawa and the 67’s organization, saying it was “a true honour” playing for them. But he also knows it’s time to move on.
Asked if he has spent any time thinking about what it might be like to continue his career, as a pro, in Canada’s capital, he was non-committal.
“It’s tough to say that because I can’t control that anyways,” said Rossi. “I just keep focusing to get better every day. On the draft, who knows what’s going to happen in the future. I try not to think too much about that because I can’t control it. I try to control how I train, how to get better every day.”
ICE CHIPS: Of the five players to win the Tilson twice, two of them were 67’s: Alyn McCauley (1995-96, 1996-97) and Corey Locke (2002-03, 2003-04). The others are legendary Toronto Maple Leafs captain George Armstrong (1947-48 with the Stratford Kroehlers, 1949-50 with the Toronto Marlboros), André Lacroix (1964-65, 1965-66 with the Peterborough Petes) and Brad Boyes (2000-01, 2001-02 with the Erie Otters) … Other 67’s winning the award were Peter Lee (1975-76), Bobby Smith (1977-78), Jim Fox (1979-80), Andrew Cassels (1987-88) and Brian Campbell (1998-99).
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