For Tony Rossi, his life of volunteer work in hockey began with building a rink.
Where it went from there has surprised him and continues to do so, and it has brought him to RiverCentre to be recognized for all of his work.
“It was different for me, because I didn’t come from a background of playing for a number of years,” Rossi said. “It was always just kind of in my nature to put things together. You start with an ice rink in your neighborhood and things like that and got that done.
“I think the biggest thing is I never dreamed I’d still be doing it so many years later and enjoying it more now than I probably did then. Now it is a different level, with a lot of going overseas and things like that.”
Rossi has been instrumental in helping to organize and fund hockey programs in Illinois, and from the youth level he has progressed to working with USA Hockey at the national and international level.
“After I graduated from law school, the first home we bought we had four young kids and we moved next to a family that had two young boys that were each exactly one year older than my two boys that were like 3 and 5 at the time and they were playing hockey,” Rossi said. “That’s how we really got into it. We didn’t have an ice rink within an hour of house, so we got involved with the Park District and building that.
“I was fortunate enough to have the ability to get different challenges. First it was with the state of Illinois, then it was with USA Hockey and then it was internationally with the IIHF. It was different. I’m not sure I could still organize eight-year olds into teams, but the challenge got to be different and we got to meet other people.”
The other guys who are being honored at the 2011 Lester Patrick Awards are all more famous with hockey fans than Rossi. Mark Johnson helped create a Miracle on Ice. Bob Pulford won the Stanley Cup four times with Toronto before a long career as an NHL coach and executive. Jeff Sauer won 655 games as a coach at the college level.
Rossi might not have played or coached, but his impact has been felt far and wide both in Illinois and around this country in the sport of hockey.
“The important thing there is volunteer, because you need people like that,” Sauer said. “I’ve known Tony for 25 years and he’s been one of those guys who has always just been there. He’s there to take charge of things for USA Hockey. He certainly deserves this award, but he also deserves the position he has with USA Hockey. Being on his board, I’ve seen how committed he is to developing hockey in the United States and that has been great. He’s had grandsons along the way, and he’s been a parent too. He’s come through the ranks in all different areas.”