Marco Rossi played a hockey game Wednesday night.
He wore skates and a jersey, jabbed his stick at the puck and traced scribbles into the ice.
If this sounds normal, it should.
Rossi is a hockey player and a talented one at that. A first-round pick drafted ninth overall by the Wild a year ago, the prized prospect offers a tantalizing blend of skill, smarts and spunk at a coveted position.
The 20-year-old center is vying to stick with the Wild and make his NHL debut; suiting up for a preseason game is part of that audition process.
But this step in Rossi's career was extraordinary because of the journey that led to the moment — the adversity that could have made it impossible.
"A lot of people when they wake up in the morning, they're not thankful enough just to be healthy," Rossi said. "After that, what I all went through, when I wake up in the morning, I'm just so thankful to be healthy.
"Just to know my passion, to play hockey, it just means so much to me."
Rossi's bid to crack the Wild's lineup was initially supposed to begin earlier this year.
After representing his native Austria at the World Junior Championship, a prestigious tournament for under-20 players, Rossi reported to Minnesota in January to compete for a roster spot at training camp before a shortened season kicked off later that month.
But his tryout never happened.
The testing he went through ahead of joining camp detected myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart that can be a complication from COVID-19, which affected Rossi last year.
“I know how good I am, and I know that I can make the NHL. But you have to show everyone that you are ready, and you have to then earn the spot because there are so many players that want the spot.”
In the aftermath of that diagnosis by Wild staff, Rossi felt fatigued. He knew something was up but wasn't thinking about the worst-case scenario. But had he played one more game, his life might have been in jeopardy.
"He could have had a cardiac arrest or sudden death if he continued to exercise," said Serge Payer, Rossi's agent.
Sports became out of the question. Same with even going for a jog.
The way to mend Rossi's heart wasn't through surgery or medicine. What would help him was to do absolutely nothing.
"It was a really shocking moment for me," he said.
Healing at home
Three weeks after arriving in Minnesota, Rossi went home.
He had been staying with fellow Austrian and former Wild player and Gophers standout Thomas Vanek, who reached out to Rossi after the Wild drafted him.
General Manager Bill Guerin told Rossi it'd be best for him to be with family. They were getting updates, and his parents and two sisters cried after hearing what was happening.
When Rossi's dad, Michael, picked Rossi up at the airport, they hugged for five minutes.
"That was my biggest challenge in my life," Michael said.
For the next two weeks, Michael figures he slept 10 hours. At night, he and his wife watched over Rossi, who was fearful he wouldn't wake up.
"Before I went to bed, I was crying," Rossi said. "It was so scary."
Rossi thought about his heart constantly, but his family and friends motivated him to take his mind off it.
He went for walks, ate homecooked meals and watched "The Last Dance" documentary on Netflix about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Rossi also worked on 5,000-piece puzzles with his parents, completing three or four.
"I'm so lucky that I have my family," Rossi said. "My parents, my sisters, my girlfriend, my friends were supporting me so much. I can't say thank you enough for them."
Making a comeback
After five months of resting, Rossi was healed.
Additional testing determined that his heart was back to normal, and he was given the green light in May to resume activity. By the middle of the month, he was skating again while still getting monitored regularly. And in July, Rossi felt better than before his hiatus.
"He's all hockey," Payer said. "There's no alternative, second or third for Marco. It's hockey, hockey, hockey."
More milestones ensued.
Rossi returned to the Austrian national team in August, playing in the qualification tournament for the Winter Olympics next year in Beijing, and last month he skated in his first rookie games with the Wild.
“A lot of people when they wake up in the morning, they're not thankful enough just to be healthy. After that, what I all went through, when I wake up in the morning, I'm just so thankful to be healthy.”
He has continued to impress at training camp alongside the Wild veterans and other roster hopefuls, presenting as the brainy, 200-foot specialist the Wild identified in the draft last year after Rossi became the first European to lead the Ontario Hockey League in scoring with 120 points (39 goals) in 56 games during 2019-20.
"A lot of young players really play for points, for scoring, and Marco obviously put up tremendous numbers his last year in Ottawa in junior," said the Wild's assistant director of player development Matt Hendricks, who stayed in touch with Rossi while the player was recovering in Austria. "But when you watch him, you really start to understand how good of a hockey player he is all over. He doesn't give up much on the defensive side of the game, and he really values it and he takes pride in that part of the game."
Chasing the dream
Despite the progress he's made, Rossi still might have to wait to play for the Wild.
Although the team has been trying to improve its center depth for years, the Wild has slotted more experienced options into the middle of its lineup at camp, decisions that could send Rossi to the minors.
"I know how good I am, and I know that I can make the NHL," Rossi said. "But you have to show everyone that you are ready, and you have to then earn the spot because there are so many players that want the spot."
But the fact he's here, once again chasing a dream that was shelved soon after it became more attainable, is a testament to who Rossi is.
"I am very proud of how Marco was handling the last six, seven, eight months," said his father , who is scheduled to visit Rossi this week in Minnesota along with Rossi's mom, Claudia, and his girlfriend, Stefanie.
This health issue might have taken from Rossi, who lost time to train and compete, but he also took from it.
Now he's even more appreciative.
"I want to show everyone who goes through a hard time that everything is possible afterwards," he said.