After nearly five decades spent playing a significant role in the growth of hockey across the United States, it's easy to see why the sport has had such a profound effect on the everyday life of Tony Rossi.
"When life is over, I would hate to have a tombstone that said, 'He built a couple of nice buildings,' " Rossi told NHL.com.
Rossi is referring to the fact he also happens to be president of RMK Management Corporation, a Chicago-based real estate company which manages 23 rental properties totaling more than 8,000 units throughout the Midwest. Despite his full plate of real estate obligations, Rossi has always kept hockey near the top of his to-do list.
His volunteer efforts haven't gone unnoticed, either, as Wednesday he'll be awarded theLester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to U.S. hockey at the RiverCentre in St. Paul, Minn.
"It was a surprise because you just go along doing what you do in life and, all of a sudden after all these years, you get a call from the Commissioner and he says you'll be awarded the Lester Patrick," Rossi, 70, said. "I've been to a number of these dinners and presentations for Ron DeGregorio and Art Berglund and you just never think of yourself in that category. But you realize you're getting to that age where you start to pick up an honor or two here or there."
Rossi's contributions have left a lasting impression, not only on the current game in the U.S. but also on everyone with which he has come in contact.
"Tony is a strong leader and smart in terms of not only his ability to understand the passionate hockey fan and parent, but with how to move the organization along with his strong business intelligence," USA Hockey president Ron DeGregorio told NHL.com. "You need to have resources, and Tony was very important to moving USA Hockey out from the difficult period, to where we are now."
Rossi played a major role in helping transform the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois into one of the strongest associations in the country. The 2011 Under-18 National Team Development Program has 23 players representing nine different states, but Illinois leads the way with five players on the roster, followed by Massachusetts and Michigan each with four.
"Tony had a way to do the right things not only for the children, but in terms of the long-term growth of the game not only in Illinois, but throughout the United States," DeGregorio said. "There are always delayed rewards in organizations and it took time for the results to come through in Illinois, but it started with Tony and with the people around him."
Rossi’s contributions date back to the 1970s, when he started a local hockey club for kids after seeing how involved his children were in the sport.
"You have to push the sport ... it's a great sport but it's not America's national pastime," Rossi said. "I just think you have to make it attractive for kids. Show them that kids of all shapes and sizes can play and have fun, but it isn't going to happen by accident.
"The other thing that's been really helpful is the influence of the local NHL teams. When clubs are aggressive in their marketing, it shows up in the numbers immediately. If you walk into a food store in Illinois now, little kids are wearing Blackhawks' shirts, something you didn't see 10 years ago."
Rossi, who currently serves as USA Hockey's vice president and international council chair, was also elected to the International Ice Hockey Federation Council in 2008. He previously served on the USA Hockey Board of Directors (1983) and as director from the Central District until 1988. Rossi was elected to the USA Hockey Executive Committee and was secretary from 1989-95. From 1995 through 2003, Rossi served as USA Hockey's treasurer.
"You wouldn't volunteer this much time unless you love doing what you're doing," Rossi said. "It's just such a different outlet for me. Sometimes, the pressure in real estate can become a little intense, financially. Hockey has always been a good outlet and therapeutic in some ways."
Rossi said he's currently in negotiations to get a 42-story building off the ground in downtown Chicago, but that "once the project gets financed and there's equipment on site, it begins rolling a little easier."
He usually dedicates three months during a year to hockey.
When asked his thoughts on the offseason decisions made by a few players who had originally committed to various colleges throughout the country but ultimately opted for the Canadian Hockey League, Rossi expressed some disappointment.
"What's disappointing to me is, I think some of the kids never really had any intention of going to that college and that's what is really frustrating," Rossi said. "Everybody has their right of choice and I know they're all trying to do whatever will help increase their own worth, but you sure wish the commitment would be sincere. Sometimes, I know the facts and circumstances will force change, but the fact you're seeing so many, it's tough."
Tag(s): Lester Patrick Award