Big-dreaming young hockey players should latch onto Stefan Della Rovere. After all, he gives them reason to believe.
That dream of reaching the top level, making the bigs, playing for your country on the world stage?
Ask Della Rovere and he’ll tell you this: it’s all attainable.
Just keep plugging away. Work as hard as you can. And never forget about hockey's top asset: heart.
Sure, slick hands and a smooth stride — Nazem Kadri-like gifts — are key attributes.
But heart and desire can be the most useful tools of all.
Della Rovere, as captain of the Barrie Colts, continues to show us that.
We saw an NHL team draft him two summers ago. We saw Della Rovere make the most of his opportunities at a Canadian Hockey League showcase game last season, ultimately leading to his landing a coveted spot on Team Canada.
And once again, we’re seeing the extensive reach that heart has.
The kid from Maple is going to the world juniors again. He’s on Team Canada, which will shoot for a sixth-straight gold beginning Boxing Day in Saskatchewan.
Hockey Canada made it official yesterday, but it’s no surprise to anyone that Della Rovere — they're calling him SDR these days — made the cut again.
After all, the rough and tumble left winger is the hockey player’s hockey player. He brings a warrior style of play that this nation can benefit from. He’s the kind of player you perhaps have to see on a daily basis to truly appreciate.
“He’s definitely a heart and soul guy,” teammate Kyle Clifford said. “When you need inspiration, you go to him. Just being around him, it’s hard not to be inspired.”
In fact, even before getting into on-ice production — Della Rovere is trotting at just under a point-per-game clip — finding a more valuable player would be a difficult task.
“He’s probably the most appreciated player on our team,” said Clifford, an L.A. Kings draft pick who plays a style similar to his crash-and-bang teammate. “He knows when to step up in the changeroom. He's always our go-to guy.”
Indeed, the 19-year-old Washington Capitals draft pick’s leadership is golden, and it will likely be needed on a team featuring a little less star power and a little more grit this time around.
“I’d be surprised if he doesn’t wear a letter,” said Ryan Strome, a 16-year-old rookie Colts forward who referred to his teammate as one of the best leaders he’s played alongside.
“He puts the team ahead of himself. That’s why he’s where he is,” added Strome, who will represent Team Ontario at the 2010 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, which opens in Timmins on Boxing Day.
Barrie head coach Marty Williamson summed up his captain nicely.
“He’s not going to be the leading scorer on a team, or lead the league in scoring, but he’s a hard-working guy who finds a way to get the job done,” the coach said. “He always finds a way.”
Some will criticize Della Rovere’s seeming lack of discipline. He took some questionable penalties during last year’s world tournament in Otttawa. Prior to leaving, Della Rovere said he’ll cut back on the penalties if he makes the team again.
That’s probably not a bad idea.
“It’s not in our hands,” Della Rovere’s mom, Angie, said last night, adding she stays out of that stuff. “He’ll play the way Team Canada wants him to play.”
Whatever the case, it was another proud moment for Angie, her husband, Lou, and their daughter, Sarah.
“We’re really proud of him,” Angie said. “He’s worked hard to get there. He’s sort of always been an underdog.”
Della Rovere, who was unavailable for comment last night, called his family with the good news yesterday morning.
“He called first thing,” his mom said. “He was so excited. This Team Canada experience is one of his goals.”
While we might not see Della Rovere hanging out in the box as often this time, there’s a good chance that he’ll keep the heart coming. One thing is certain. He’s left his mark even before the first puck-drop at the worlds.
“He’s definitely a guy to look up to,” Strome said yesterday. “Being around him and seeing what he’s done, it makes you strive to try to be like him.