Wild prospect Marco Rossi was on the ice on Wednesday afternoon at TRIA Rink in downtown St. Paul. He skated with fellow prospects in the organization and scored a couple of highlight-reel goals that showed why the Wild selected him with the No. 9 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.
The fact the 19-year-old center was out there in any capacity is nothing short of a miracle considering everything he’s gone throughout of the past year. This is the same young man who couldn’t even go for a walk without his heart rate spiking to 110 beats per minute. To put that number in perspective, elite athletes like Rossi can sometimes have a resting heart rate as low as 40 beats per minute.
It started last November when Rossi tested positive for COVID-19. Though he experienced only minor symptoms at the time, he was exhausted in the weeks that followed. That exhaustion spilled over into his time with Team Austria at the World Junior Championship, then hit a boiling point a couple of weeks later when, in a considerable shock, he failed his cardiac screening ahead of Wild training camp.
After undergoing a number of tests about 9½ months ago, Rossi was diagnosed with myocarditis, a medical term used to described an inflammation of the heart. His quest of making the NHL seemed over before it even began.
What followed was the scariest year of Rossi’s life.
“The hard part was that I couldn’t do really anything,” he said. “I couldn’t even go for a walk.”
Forget the budding NHL career; there were times over the past year that Rossi worried his heart might stop if he overexerted himself. He couldn’t do anything that might raise his heart rate, and eventually he returned to his native Austria to recover.
As his health slowly started to improve, Rossi let himself start thinking about the NHL again. He admitted that he had some doubts about whether he could be the same player he was before the diagnosis.
“It was scary,” Rossi said. “I’m thinking a lot, like, ‘Am I really going to be better than before? How’s it going to be after? Can I go intense, really hard again?’ Those are some of the questions I had.”
Those questions started to get answered back in May, when he was medically cleared to resume training, then again in June when he hit the ice for the first time since his diagnosis.
Still, there were some doubts in Rossi’s mind after being told to do nothing for so long. Could he really go 100 percent? How would his heart react if he did?
“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,” he said. “You’re thinking so much.”
Those doubts slowly started to fade and Rossi made it clear that he doesn’t think that way anymore.
In fact, Rossi claims to be feeling even better than he did before the diagnosis. Not only has the past year provided him with the mental strength to know he can overcome adversity, it has provided him with literal physical strength as he’s tirelessly worked himself back into shape.
“I feel strong,” Rossi said. “I always say now that I feel better than before because I had such a long time to recover, just to work on everything, on my good things, on my bad things. I always wanted to be much better, and I think for me, I have much more confidence than before.”
That was on display on Wednesday afternoon as Rossi got to showcase his skills alongside some of the top prospects in the Wild organization. Some notable names included defenseman Calen Addison, who had a cup of coffee in the NHL last season, and Matt Boldy, who has a chance to make the NHL roster this season.
“It was a really good skate,” Rossi said. “I was so excited to finally be here and skate with the team. After a very hard time for me, it felt really good to be out there skating with the team. It’s amazing to be out there.”
This is the first step for Rossi this season, and he’s trying to stay in the moment as best he can. That said, Rossi is also looking forward to training camp after having that taken away from him last season.
“My goal is to make the NHL,” he said. “I know how good I am. I know I can make it. But I have to prove myself. You have to earn that spot.”
No matter what happens over the next few week, though, Rossi is happy that he’s able to chase his dream once again.
“I love to play hockey,” Rossi said. “After such a long time not playing hockey I realized how much I love the sport. Especially right now, when I’m out there, I always appreciate being out there. I’m thankful I can play hockey again.”