Latrobe’s Schimizzi, Rossi could cross paths in NAHL
By: Jerin Steele
Monday, April 9, 2018 | 4:01 PM
J.T. Schimizzi has never been to Alaska, and he can't wait to move there next fall. Blake Rossi feels the same way about his upcoming move to Texas.
What has the pair excited about leaving Latrobe is a dream opportunity to play in the North American Hockey League, one of the elite junior hockey leagues in the United States.
Schimizzi, a forward, signed a tender with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Rossi, a defenseman, signed with the Amarillo Bulls. They will report to their respective teams in the fall. Both are seniors at Latrobe.
“Every single person that has found out that I was going to Alaska has looked at me with that (puzzled) facial expression,” said Schimizzi, who was Latrobe's captain this season. “It's going to be a great adventure. I'm excited to go there for the first time and see what it's all about.”
“It's something you have to do if you want to go far in hockey, and I'm excited to do it,” Rossi said. “Texas is far of course, but if that's where I have to go to get better, then I can't wait to go there. I went to a lot of tryouts last summer with a lot of teams. I love that I got the opportunity, and I'm going to make the most of it.”
Aside from playing for Latrobe, Schimizzi and Rossi played together on the Esmark Stars travel team for years. They went to showcases with Esmark with the hopes of catching the eye of a junior organization.
Rossi received prior interest from Amarillo and received his offer after a showcase in January. Schimizzi signed his tender in March after learning Fairbanks had been following his progress for more than a month.
The friends are happy they are getting an opportunity to play in the NAHL. Both credited Esmark coaches Dave Kosick and Yuri Krivokhija and Latrobe coach Josh Werner with helping them develop.
“It's great to see two guys coming from the same area in Latrobe getting the same opportunity,” Schimizzi said.
Schimizzi led Latrobe with 17 goals and 38 points in 18 games this season, and Rossi had 10 goals and 27 points. They also posted impressive numbers with Esmark: Schimizzi amassed 51 points in 61 games; and Rossi registered 37 points. They scored 19 goals apiece.
Schimizzi's Esmark teammate, Parker Brown, a South Carolina native, also signed a tender with Fairbanks. Stephen Rex, who played on Peters Township's 2017 state championship team, plays for Amarillo.
Fairbanks has been one of the top teams in the NAHL, winning three titles since 2011. The Ice Dogs were the top team in the regular season this year with 97 points. Amarillo narrowly missed the playoffs.
Schimizzi and Rossi have not played against each other, but being in the same league could provide that opportunity. Amarillo and Fairbanks are in different divisions and haven't played each other since the 2014-15 season, but nondivision opponents change each year on the schedule.
The prospects of facing each another is different, but they would relish the opportunity if it happens.
“There will be some friendly competition there,” Schimizzi said. “We've played on different (travel) teams before, but I don't think we've ever played against each other.”
“We had five guys from Esmark that got tendered, so I've been thinking about how I might go up against every single one of them next year and how cool that would be,” Rossi said. “I might get to go to Alaska and play against my friend, who's from Latrobe. That'd be so crazy.”
The ultimate goal for Rossi and Schimizzi is to play in college. Unlike most sports, hockey players typically do not make the leap from college right away. Instead, they mature in juniors before getting scholarship offers.
They want to follow the path of Latrobe graduate Dalton Hunter, who was one of the top scorers in the NAHL last year with the Johnstown Tomahawks and received a scholarship from Mercyhurst, where he will play next year. Hunter is playing the USHL this year for the Dubuque (Iowa) Fighting Saints.
Amarillo has 10 players on this year's team who are committed to Division I schools. Fairbanks also has 10 players committed to play Division I hockey. The NAHL has 201 players with college commitments for this season across its 23 teams.
“My friends kept asking me if I was getting any (college) offers, and I had to explain to them hockey doesn't work that way,” Rossi said. “Whether it's Division I or Division III, I want to continue in college. Hockey is something I love, and I don't want to stop playing it.”
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.