RANKWEIL, Austria – We pull off the autobahn, journey a brief distance and make a proper flip down a unfastened gravel highway subsequent to 1 / 4 horse farm.

The signal on the enormous picket barn reads “Herzlich Willkommen,” which interprets to “Warm Welcome!”

In the far distance on either side of us on this refreshing summer time day is the tranquil panorama of the Austrian and Swiss Alps, the place Marco Rossi hikes and mountain bikes weekly along with his girlfriend. Rankweil, the close by colourful Austrian village of 12,000 individuals, is the place the Wild’s prime prospect proudly grew up and by no means envisions leaving. A surprising basilica sits atop a hill overlooking town, like a protecting fortress. That’s the place Rossi prays each week.

“Everyone believes in something different, and I believe in something that gives me power,” says Rossi, the 20-year-old middle and ninth general decide within the 2020 NHL Draft, whereas gazing on the magnificent church. “It gives me comfort.”

We pull as much as an enthralling orange stone home. An indication to the left of the door, underneath the mailbox and over the doorbell, reads: FAM ROSSI.

(Michael Russo / The Athletic)

“That’s where Marco almost killed a horse,” Michael Rossi says as he will get out of the automotive, nonetheless spooked by an incident that occurred 11 or 12 years in the past when his son was solely 8 or 9.

“Yeah, in that field over there,” Marco says, pointing a few hundred ft away. “My dad was standing right there. I didn’t really know what was going on, but my dad was in shock … like shaking.”

Michael Rossi, who performed hockey professionally in Austria for 20 years, knew early on that his son had one thing particular. The approach he skated, the way in which he thought the sport, the way in which he handed the puck and, significantly, the way in which he shot it.

“Marco was shooting better and better,” Michael recollects. “I’m watching him shoot the puck right here and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, he shoot good!’ Then I saw the horse and thought, ‘I hope he don’t hit the horse.’ At that moment, I saw the horse go down.”

Michael flew previous Marco and sprinted into the sector. As he stood over the fallen animal, Marco’s father seemed up and noticed the horse’s proprietor strolling towards the sector.

“I start begging to the horse: ‘Oh my God, please stand up! Please stand up! Please, get up!!!’” Michael says.

The horse lastly did rise up. Dazed and wobbly, it shook off the cobwebs after having taken that slap shot sq. off his brow, proper between his now-glazed-over eyes.

“But he was good. The farmer had no idea it even happened,” recollects a still-relieved Michael, now capable of no less than let loose a slight chuckle a decade later.

The subsequent day, Michael purchased a large piece of netting and put it up. When the farmer noticed what Michael was doing, he walked down the highway and stated: “Oh, Michael, you are such a nice guy. You have such a good heart for horses.”

“I was thinking: ‘You have no idea,’” Michael says.

Per week later, Marco shot a puck proper via the again window of his mother’s automotive. Michael acquired the window mounted, and two days later, Marco did it once more.

“I went back to the guy and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but I need another glass,” Michael says.

Marco factors to a close-by home: “That neighbor over there, he gave me 50 euros once to stop shooting because it was too loud. I took the money … but I kept shooting.”

As we stroll into Marco’s childhood residence, a French bulldog named Bijou and carrying a Minnesota Wild collar greets us. We stroll upstairs to Marco’s bed room. He nonetheless lives at residence on weekends, however he spends weekdays on the condominium of his girlfriend, Stefanie Prast, in close by Dornbirn, a metropolis near the hockey rink in Lustenau, the place Marco trains.

Marco’s bed room door has a ROSSI locker-room stall nameplate and a rendering of a referee dropping the puck for a gap faceoff to a left-shot middle that resembles Rossi.

Inside the room is a mattress just a little bigger than a twin and a Marco Rossi museum of types. There are a dozen ROSSI jerseys hanging from the partitions, from his Zurich staff, the Europe SELECTS All-Star Game, his peewee membership, the Ottawa 67’s, the Iowa Wild and the jersey from his NHL debut final January in Boston. He even has an autographed jersey from CSKA Moscow, Kirill Kaprizov’s former staff.

There are big posters of Rossi in motion. There are staff footage, hockey taking part in playing cards of himself, medals, trophies and a number of other certificates, together with one for being the primary European in historical past to win the scoring title within the OHL.

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Wild middle Marco Rossi in motion in his NHL debut towards the Bruins in January. (M. Anthony Nesmith / Icon Sportswire through Getty Images)

There are, after all, love notes taped to the wall from Stefanie and a bottle of tequila that former Iowa teammate Cody McLeod gave as a present to each teammate after he performed his 1,000th skilled recreation final season.

The bottle stays unopened as a result of Marco doesn’t drink alcohol.

“He won’t even eat tiramisu because of the rum,” Michael says. “When I played hockey, hockey and beer was very close for me. Not for him. He’s very different than me.”

We stroll again downstairs and right into a picturesque yard that pops with inexperienced grass, inexperienced timber and inexperienced bushes that act as a fence line. There we’re met by Marco’s mother, Claudia, Michael’s spouse of 24 years, and Marco’s older sisters, Estelle, 26, who works at a financial institution and launched Marco to Stefanie, and Marielle, 22, a health teacher. A giant outside desk holds pitchers of water and conveniently one espresso mug with a double espresso.

It’s not exhausting to be struck by the quiet, the recent air, the majesty of the mountains within the background.

“This is home,” Marco says. “This is where I feel at home. I know everything about here. It’s the most relaxing spot for me. It’s clean. It’s quiet. There’s not much traffic like the U.S. It’s just most relaxing here.”

If Marco’s not on the rink, his residence or church, you’ll most definitely discover him outside. Several occasions per week, he’ll go to Lake Constance (Bodensee), a large lake that borders Austria, Switzerland and Germany, to take a seat on the seashore, get on a ship or fish. He factors to the mountain, a spot the place he and Stefanie rented a home when he acquired again from growth camp in Minnesota final month.

“Like in nature, when you’re up there, you’re not on your phone, you’re just by yourself or with friends, family,” he says. “You just enjoy it up there, especially for your brain and for your head, it’s like the best feeling I think you can get.”

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Marco Rossi in his happiest place. (Dietmar Stiplovsek for The Athletic)

In Austria, if you’re a great, younger hockey participant like Marco was at age 9, you’re usually taking part in towards 14- and 15-year-olds. Marco attended a faculty that specialised in sports activities. He performed soccer and basketball till age 14.

But to be able to get extra competitors and develop as a hockey participant, the Rossis allowed Marco to play two hours away, in Zurich, Switzerland.

Six days per week, Marco would go to highschool round 7:30 a.m. and get residence at 4. Michael would get off work and drive Marco to Zurich. They’d get again to their residence in Austria at midnight. At 5:30 a.m., Michael would rise up for work and do it over again.

“I know every stone on this highway,” Michael says as he takes The Athletic on the identical 150 kilometer route he made along with his son lots of of occasions of their white Fiat. “I bought my car with zero kilometers. When Marco was done in Switzerland four years later, it had 580,000 kilometers (about 360,000 miles), and I drove the car right away to the garbage. I tried to get some money, but the car shop guy told me, ‘Don’t ask me about money,’ after looking at the car.”

That day by day round-trip trek took a toll on Michael’s psychological and bodily well being. He was by no means residence to see his spouse and didn’t have a lot time to spend along with his daughters.

“But my goal was the NHL. I was always focusing on the NHL,” Marco says. “At the time, I was never thinking my dad was sacrificing so much. It was tough for him because he had to drive, but I could sleep.”

And then Marco’s profession took off.

In highschool in Rankweil, the headmaster was accommodating and made a take care of the Rossis. Marco would attend class on Mondays and Tuesdays. The remainder of the week, he would concentrate on hockey, so long as he acquired his homework executed.

“Marco could be very smart. He could be very smart. He could,” Michael says, inflicting his complete household to giggle out loud. “But his heart for hockey was so big. Every Monday and Tuesday, I’d drop Marco off at school. He’d get out of the car and say, ‘Bye dad!” One day, the director calls me and says, ‘Michael, are you able to come to my workplace please?’

“I go, ‘Yes, no problem.’ I go down and he says, ‘When is Marco going to come to school?’ My heart sunk. Finally, he says, ‘Let’s just make a deal: You start telling me when he’s coming to school, not when he’s not coming.’”

Michael and Claudia confronted their son. Where had Marco been going for months after being dropped off in school?

“The coffee shop,” Marco says, laughing. “I’d look ahead to my dad to drive away after which stroll 5 minutes to the espresso store. I’d simply drink espresso and browse the newspaper for a number of hours and see out the home windows all the children operating to highschool as a result of they had been late.

“I had it timed pretty good. I’d go there for two hours, then it was a one-hour walk home. I’d get home by 12 for lunch. My parents would go, ‘How was school today?’ And I’d go, ‘Really good.’”

When his mother and father found he had been skipping college, Marco made his case: “I haven’t been to school in two months, and I’m still at the same level as everybody.”

“I knew I’d be a hockey player,” he says, smiling sheepishly.

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Marco Rossi, Stefanie Prast and Rossi’s household: from left, mother and father Michael and Claudia, sister Marielle, her boyfriend Jasmin Hodzic, sister Estelle and Bijou, in entrance of the Austrian Alps. (Michael Russo / The Athletic)

Around the identical time, Ottawa 67’s normal supervisor James Boyd struck up a relationship with the Rossis and informed them he wished to draft Marco within the CHL Import Draft.

“Marco was clear: ‘I go there,’” Michael recollects. “I told him, ‘Listen, have one night, sleep on it.’ He said, ‘OK,’ and then 4:30 in the morning, he comes to my bed and goes, ‘Daddy, I go to Canada.’ I wanted him to stay here, but as a father, you can’t tell him what to do. I always support what Marco wants.”

When phrase trickled out that Rossi was contemplating taking part in main junior in Canada, the Rossis acquired calls from 20 CHL groups. The Rossis let or not it’s identified if anyone chosen him aside from Ottawa, he’d keep and play in Switzerland.

“I was actually hoping somebody else would take him so he’d stay,” Michael says. “But Ottawa took him (18th overall), and I think that was the best choice. It was good for him that he could grow as his own person and leave and become a man. For me, it was tough. It’s more tough for a father than a kid. I was like, ‘What do I do now?’”

Marco went to Ottawa, labored with now-Arizona Coyotes coach Andre Tourigny, whom he calls “the best coach I’ve ever had,” and his profession erupted.

After a 29-goal, 65-point rookie yr, Marco scored 39 targets and 120 factors in 56 video games in his second season to grow to be the primary European to steer the OHL in scoring and the primary European to steer the complete CHL in scoring since Alex Radulov (152 factors) in 2005-06. He led the OHL with 81 assists and a plus-69 and was the second European import in OHL historical past to be named MVP. His 2.14 factors per recreation ranked second within the CHL by one-hundredth of a degree behind the 2020 draft’s No. 1 general decide, Alexis Lafrenière.

“I remember when I first got to Ottawa, I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is what it feels like to play a home game or practice in the same city,’” Marco says. “Because for me, my entire life, every game was like a road game, every practice was far away. It was the first time I realized how tough that was on me and my family.”

Marco’s dad was a long-time professional hockey participant in Austria and Marco knew from a younger age he wished to observe in his footsteps, solely throughout the pond within the NHL.

“I was always the fun guy on the team,” Michael says. “I was not talented, but I played in the first league and I had fun. This world was for me OK. It was not normal for a young kid in Austria then to go to Switzerland or Canada. I retired at 37, coached one year in Germany and realized quickly I needed to be there for Marco. His talent was bigger than my talent in coaching.”

Michael and Claudia met whereas Michael was taking part in professionally within the late 90s in Claudia’s hometown of Graz, Austria. She admits she is aware of little about hockey.

“Stanley Cup Final, I’m watching and she’s sitting on the couch asking if we can change the channel,” Marco says.

“I watch too much hockey. I’d rather watch tennis,” Claudia says, laughing. “But when I got to watch Marco in Boston last year, it was amazing.”

Claudia works for the federal government in a small, Austrian city issuing passports. In a whole lot of methods, Marco takes after his mom.

“She’s quiet, and Marco can be very, very quiet,” says Michael, shortly triggering the nodding of heads from his spouse and two daughters.

“Except when he watches Formula 1,” Claudia says, once more triggering laughter from the complete household.

“Yeah, when the races are on, I need total quiet from everybody,” says Marco, whose favourite racing staff is of course owned by the Austrian firm Red Bull.

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Marco Rossi and his girlfriend Stefanie Prast. (Dietmar Stiplovsek for The Athletic)

We get into Marco’s black Audi and drive into city for dinner at a restaurant referred to as “Rankweiler Hof.”

It’s acquired all the things from wiener schnitzel to tafelspitz (boiled beef) to kasespatzle, which is a heavy, tacky dish that the Rossi household warns will not be the healthiest.

We sit at a picnic desk underneath an attractive cover of greenery. Everybody within the restaurant’s courtyard clearly is aware of the Rossis.

Marco is the satisfaction of the city — for who he’s as an individual, for what he’s developed into as a hockey participant, for what he’s overcome throughout a troublesome 18 months after being diagnosed in January 2021 with myocarditis stemming from having COVID-19.

Between the center situation that might have been career- and even life-threatening, and the pandemic, Marco mainly went a yr with out aggressive hockey. But regardless of that brief offseason of coaching final summer time, Marco set the Iowa Wild rookie file with 53 factors in 63 video games.

Marco orders Gemischter Salat mit Rosti, which is a salad with potatoes that resemble hash browns. Stefanie orders Flädlesuppe, a conventional Austrian pancake soup in broth.

“Stefanie went to cooking school,” Marco says. “She’s a great cook.”

Stefanie blushes.

Last hockey season, Stefanie left her job on the native financial institution and acquired a visa to go to Marco in Des Moines for 2 prolonged stints totaling 5 1/2 months. Marco all the time returned to a home-cooked meal, which introduced consolation as a result of one of many greatest issues he missed final season about residence was the meals, like his grandmother’s schnitzel and the native kaiserschmarrn, which is an Austrian pancake dessert.

Marco is cautious what he eats. During the week, no less than. Marco and Stefanie write out weekday meal plans and he sticks to them. On the weekends, he permits himself to “cheat.”

Stefanie’s greatest dish?

“Lasagna,” Marco says, laughing, earlier than deadpanning, “It’s her favorite food, so it’s always a little better than anything else she makes.”

After dinner, Marco takes us as much as the basilica, which is his protected haven. He’s there weekly in the course of the offseason and was there nearly day by day throughout his well being scare of 2021.

Marco and Stefanie pray collectively earlier than each certainly one of his video games.

As Marco leans towards a stone wall overlooking his hometown at sundown, he says softly, “So peaceful.”

“Beautiful,” Stefanie says, nodding her head.

Far from the serenity of his hometown basilica, Marco’s NHL dream awaits.

Earlier this summer time, Kevin Fiala was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for a first-round decide and prospect Brock Faber. The Wild are in a big-time cap crunch and can want inexpensive gamers on entry-level contracts to make the staff and make an impression the following three years.

This is frankly a giant motive Marco spent each recreation however two in Iowa final season. Sure, he didn’t play for practically a calendar yr and Wild GM Bill Guerin, all the time affected person along with his prospects, wished the 20-year-old to develop correctly. But one other pertinent issue was that if Rossi performed fewer than 10 video games final season, his three-year contract would slide and the expiration would align completely with the top of the Zach Parise-Ryan Suter buyout ache.

This approach, if Marco erupts within the subsequent three years, the Wild gained’t have to stress over having the ability to afford to re-sign him to a bridge deal or a long-term contract.

Marco by no means resented the choice at the same time as he watched different gamers get recalled extra continuously and Matt Boldy, his first-half linemate in Iowa final season, grow to be a full-time NHLer after the 2 made their NHL debuts together in Boston eight months ago.

“I believe in Billy Guerin and what his plan is for me,” Marco says. “I kept seeing fans on social media saying, ‘Bring up Rossi, bring up Rossi, this is unfair.’ Maybe if I played the entire year before, maybe I would feel different. But after playing no games because of COVID and then my heart, I knew playing 20 or 22 minutes a game in Iowa was the best thing I could have right now. As a player, I knew Iowa is where I could grow. Fans see it different. They don’t see the player’s development. They just want you in Minnesota.”

Marco, who turns 21 on Sept. 23 — sooner or later into coaching camp — is so centered on making the Wild out of camp this yr, he has informed his household, particularly his dad, that he doesn’t need any guests the primary two months of the season. He additionally plans to keep away from social media as a result of he doesn’t need unfavorable or constructive feedback to mess along with his head, particularly since he is aware of many followers and critics are him because the Wild’s Fiala substitute.

And at 21 years outdated, anticipating Rossi to interchange Fiala’s 85 factors is fairly unreasonable.

“I put enough pressure on myself,” Marco says. “Social media could be actually, actually unhealthy these days. … It’s actually unhealthy vitality, not nearly me, however my teammates and household and associates. So I’m going to attempt to keep away from that and simply take care of the stress I’m going to placed on me.

“I see internal pressure as a positive, not a negative.”

Marco is anticipated to begin on a line with Boldy, who scored 15 targets and 39 factors in 47 video games final season.

“Playing with Bolds in Iowa was the best thing for me because he’s so smart,” Marco says. “We’re both really smart, so when I had the puck, I was looking for him and tried to have him in open space. And same thing, when he had the puck, I tried to get into open space for him. We both played the half wall on the power play and we always tried to make that seam pass to each other.”

Marco laughs loudly: “It wasn’t always there, and Tim Army let us know that.”

Marco is abundantly conscious there’s a roster spot ready for him.

“But Billy Guerin just told me, ‘Be ready for camp,’” Marco says. “That’s the first thing I heard when I came to Minnesota, that you always have to earn that spot. He’s not going to give you anything. You have to earn that spot, and that’s the way it should be. So, even though the spot is open, I know I better have a good camp.”

There have been 17 Austrians drafted within the NHL. Until Marco Kasper was drafted eighth final month by the Detroit Red Wings, Marco, at No. 9 in 2020, was the highest-drafted Austrian since Thomas Vanek was taken fifth by the Buffalo Sabres in 2003.

There will not be a whole lot of hockey rinks in Austria, in order a lot as that is Marco’s proud residence and the place the place he can discover peace, consolation and rest, he would by no means have gotten up to now with out the sacrifice of day by day four-hour, round-trip drives along with his dad or with out the braveness to go away residence and stay throughout the ocean as an adolescent in Ottawa.

“It’s sad,” Marco says.

The subsequent morning after our tour of Rankweil, Marco will get in a great, exhausting skate with different native professionals and his coach, former professional Dylan Stanley. Now Marco’s getting ready to run his hockey camp, which introduced in 160 youngsters from throughout Europe.

“I’ll look up during a drill and see all the kids just staring at me,” Marco says, laughing. “It’s humbling. It jogs my memory of after I was a child and what I used to consider Thomas Vanek or after I first met (Swiss native) Timo Meier and the way I seemed as much as him. And now I skate with Timo each week.

“I hope these kids realize that if you believe in yourself, you can make the NHL … no matter what small country you’re from.”

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Marco Rossi encourages a younger participant at his hockey camp. (Dietmar Stiplovsek for The Athletic)

(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic. Photos: Bruce Kluckhohn, Nick Wosika / Icon Sportswire through Getty Images; brandstaetter photos)

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