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Marco Rosa a scoring force for IceCaps

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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — They immigrated to Canada in the early 1970s, a young married couple, he from Italy and she from Spain.

They made their way to Montreal, where their first boy was born, before heading to Toronto and eventually settling in nearby Scarborough.

The Rosas worked hard to scrape together enough money for the family. Italo Rosa was employed at the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Toronto, running room service orders to the guests ("he was a servant to the rich," says his second boy, a professional hockey player). Lidia Rosa worked as a seamstress.

The Rosas didn’t have an abundance of wares. But they were a family and values were passed down from parents to children.

"My parents," Marco Rosa was saying this week, "were blue-collar … hard-working.

"They taught me the value of hard work. It’s something I’ve never forgotten."

Marco Rosa is the St. John’s IceCaps’ leading scorer, a 5-10 forward playing a big role in the team’s 9-2-3 start, best in the American Hockey League heading into Saturday’s game against the Connecticut Whale.

Though he’s not exactly lighting it up with three goals and eight assists through 14 games, Rosa has quietly become a go-to player on a nondescript IceCaps’ roster, one short of stars but deep in very good minor pros not yet ready for prime time.

And Rosa’s done it the honest way. No frills.

"I’ve always worked hard," said Rosa, one of the last players off the ice each and every practice.

"I was never the best player on any team, never considered a prospect, not a high draft pick. But I’ll do anything to help the team win, and I think coaches like that."

Rosa played four years of NCAA Division I college hockey with Merrimack College outside Boston. He was drafted by Dallas in 2001, but never signed with the Stars.

Following his college career, Rosa turned pro and it’s been an odyssey from California to Texas to the Prairies and Newfoundland, from the ECHL to the AHL.

But never the NHL.

Rosa, 29, has yet to play a big league game, and his ship to the NHL, you might think, is about to sail.

But the chatty veteran refuses to believe the naysayers, opting instead to keep the faith.

After all, didn’t the Florida Panthers just recall 30-year-old career minor leaguer Bracken Kearns (son of former NHLer Dennis Kearns, for you 40-plus readers) last month?

And wasn’t Connie Madigan 38 before he was recalled to the St. Louis Blues in 1973, the NHL’s oldest-ever rookie?

"I see that and I think to myself," laughs Rosa, "‘I’ve got some time.’

"I’m not going to be satisfied until I get there. Sometimes people might think the odds of making the NHL are crazy, but I figure if there’s a will, there’s a way.

"Sometimes I bury my head and not think about what some people may be saying. With a strong work ethic, you can do whatever it is you want to accomplish if you put your mind to it."

After leading the Manitoba Moose in playoff scoring last spring (17 points in 14 games), the Winnipeg Jets inked Rose to an AHL contract in the off-season, primarily to provide a veteran presence on what was shaping up to be a youthful IceCaps’ squad.

It is a fit that works both ways. The Jets like Rosa and consider him a healthy influence on the kids. On the other hand, Rosa likes the idea of being in the Winnipeg organization, where he’s known to coaches and management.

"(Winnipeg coach) Claude Noel is familiar with me, and if I’m doing my job here, and things aren’t going so well in Winnipeg, maybe he wants someone he can trust, and maybe I can get lucky," Rosa said.

It helps, too, that Winnipeg is an organization that has indicated it will reward players with a call-up based on their play, rather than contract status or draft position, an all-too-common trait with other teams.

Rosa’s contribution in St. John’s hasn’t gone unnoticed, where IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge — who is on the phone with Noel daily — is impressed with Rosa’s commitment to improvement every time he steps on the ice.

Whether it’s a practice or a game, Rose is very professional about his approach to the game, McCambridge said.

"Regardless of his age," said the coach, "the opportunity for him to get to the NHL is definitely there."

When Rosa was four or five, he pined to play hockey. But his immigrant parents, scared off from the game during the rough and tumble 1970s, refused to let him skate.

Before they eventually relented, Rosa offered his mother this declaration: "She said I came up to her one day, when Iwas four or five at the most, and said, ‘Even if you don’t put me in hockey, I’m still going to be a professional hockey player.’"

Here’s hoping he can take it one step further.

Robin Short is the Telegram’s sports editor.

He can be reached by email at

rshort@thetelegram.com

— St. John's Telegram

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