by Amy Moritz
Each tournament is an opportunity for Vince Rocco to grow as a hockey player. After all, you learn a lot when you're lining up across from Jaromir Jagr in an international competition.
The results weren't what Rocco was hoping for, but the experience was invaluable. The former Niagara Purple Eagle was on his third national team for Italy, which went just 1-7 in the preliminary round at the IIHF World Championships in Belarus.
"I thought we had a good tournament," Rocco said via Skype. "It was the third time for me going to the World Championships so I knew what to expect. For a small hockey country like Italy, I thought we played well enough to stay up. Unfortunately we didn't get the bounces to go our way. All in all it wa sa great experience. Obviously you learn some valuable lessons at that level."
Rocco, a native of Woodbridge, Ontario, played at Niagara from 2005-09 and finished with 120 career points (46 goals, 74 assists) and captained the 2007-08 team that won the College Hockey America title and NCAA tournament berth.
He decided to play in Italy and after two seasons he fulfilled the residency requirement to get his Italian passport and become eligible for the national team.
"You have no idea what to expect and once you get over there you realize how good the hockey really is," Rocco said. "You don't realize that every team in Italy has 10 or 11 guys from Canada and America, guys who have played years in the American League or have NHL experience. It's really a good league to get in to."
After four years in Italy, Rocco moved to Sweden this past season, taking the opportunity to upgrade the level of league.
The opportunities overseas include a different type of hockey lifestyle. Teams typically play 40-60 games, more akin to a college schedule than a North American pro schedule, allowing for more time to explore nearby European cities.
The hockey itself is on a bigger ice surface and the while the game overall is faster, Rocco has found the quickness comes not so much in speed as in smarts.
"College hockey especially emphasises skating as fast as you can for short bursts of speed and playing with high energy all the time," Rocco said. "When you go to the pro game, it slows down a bit. Guys are smarter with the puck. You've got to read the game better and have more patience making plays. In college hockey, you don't have the time to do that.
"I'm still growing as a hockey player. I'm still learning. The World Championships help to realize, playing against guys like Jaromir Jagr, what it really means. I just learn every year and take little things from different players and teams to become a better player myself."
This World Championships, he also got to reunite with his former teammate and roommate, Dan Sullivan. The defenseman also went to Italy after finishing at Niagara in 2009 but made his first Italian national team this season. The native of Scarborough, Ontario had seven goals and 23 assists while at Niagara.
"Getting to play at this level with a guy I roomed with and played with for four years was really nice," Rocco said. "It was great to reminisce and play with him again."
Rocco will return to Canada on Saturday and decide over the summer where he will play next year.