Coming out of the dark

Robin Short
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Sidelined by concussion, IceCaps' Rosa finds relief with artwork

It's been two months now - to the day, actually - since Marco Rosa last played a hockey game, and his head still hurts.

There are times, really, when it hurts a lot.

When he's watching television. Reading. When the sun's rays - on the rare occasion around here - gleam through the window.

"It's like," he says, "it's like ... you feel your brain doesn't fit your skull. It's the best way to describe it. It feels like a lot of pressure in there."

Rosa is a St. John's IceCaps centreman, or was until he was hit from behind and took a stick to the noggin - in the one game, no less - just before Christmas, during a five-game road swing through New England. He's still an IceCap, of course, but he isn't around the team a lot, and he certainly isn't skating or working out.

While Sidney Crosby is the reluctant face of the concussion epidemic facing the National Hockey League, the little-known Rosa is among the vast majority of countless other, faceless hockey players suffering through a foggy, uncertain time.

"You just don't feel yourself," Rosa says. "You wake up groggy, and certain things you do trigger a headache. The headaches ... I can't tell you how many there have been. It's different for different people. For me, TV triggers it. That and reading. You watch TV and you feel one coming on.

"So it's not even worth watching," he says, before adding with a grin, "unless it's the Super Bowl."

At the time of his injury, Rosa was leading the IceCaps in scoring, just under a point per game clip with six goals and 21 assists in 29 games. He was enjoying his finest season to date as an American Hockey League player.

Rosa's troubles occurred at the Wireless Verizon Arena in Manchester, N.H., on a Friday night, in a game against the Monarchs, the Los Angeles' Kings farm club.

At 14:08 of the second period, the St. John's player was hit from behind by J.D. Watt, and the Monarchs' player was slapped with a double minor for charging and roughing.

Less than five minutes later, Manchester's Pat Mullen, son of Hall of Famer Joey Mullen, caught Rosa with a high stick and received four minutes for high sticking.

Rosa, it would turn out, has been sitting out much longer.

Though he did play in the IceCaps' next two games in Portland, picking up an assist in a 4-3 shootout loss Saturday night, Rosa has yet to lace up a pair of skates since the seven days leading up to Christmas.

"You can't watch games (live) because they trigger headaches," he said. "When I'm feeling good, I come down to the rink and when I'm not, I just stay away. I don't want to get any worse. You can't rehab this like a knee or shoulder, so the only protocol is rest.

"I try to be around the guys as much as I can, you know, joking and laughing, but the next thing you know that triggers a headache, right? You don't want to do too much, but at the same time, you drive yourself crazy doing too little. You can't sit around a dark apartment."

If there's an upside to the injury - and one has to dig far and deep to unearth a positive from this particular negative - it's that Rosa has gotten in touch with his inner self.

He's searched for something to occupy his time that doesn't cause him discomfort, and what he's found is a passion for painting.

"I'm pretty creative," he said. "I like to draw. Doodling and drawing, it's something I've been doing since I was a teen. So one day I picked up the paint brush and painted some stuff, just to do something. Because once you eliminate reading or watching TV or working out, you're pretty limited.

"Something like this forces you to find something that you can do. To be honest, I didn't really know that I was pretty good at drawing before this."

Rosa purchased a book on the history of illustration and, armed with a sketch pad, away he went.

"I finished one painting," he said. "It's a lady with a dog. I gave it to my girlfriend. She thought it was pretty nice."

Rosa doesn't know when he will rejoin the IceCaps. It could be next week, next month, just before or during the playoffs. That's the thing with concussions.

Or he might not play again.

He turned 30 last month, an eight-year pro after completing four years and a communications degree at Merrimack College, just outside Boston. The Toronto native believes he still has another few seasons left in the tank, but he's also a realist.

Rosa's insured and there will be a time when a decision will have to made: try playing again, or walk away from the game with a settlement.

"I don't know what to say. At this point, I don't want to look too far ahead," he said.

"Yes, it is a concussion, I've been out a long time, I am getting older and, in the grand scheme of things, there is more to life than hockey and everyone stops playing at some point in time.

"I don't want to think that way, but it crosses your mind, and it's a bridge I'll cross if I have to. I'm prepared. I have my degree, so it's not like I'm behind the eight-ball. I have something to fall back on and that's thanks to my parents for ensuring I got all the college stuff done.

"I'm not too worried about it. I came to a conclusion a couple of years back that I'm going to do this for as long as I can because I love it, and when it's done, it's done. No matter how it is going to be done, I've been lucky so far. Whatever my life holds in the future, let it be."

Robin Short is The Telegram's Sports Editor. He can be reached by email


Organizations: Merrimack College, IceCaps, Monarchs National Hockey League American Hockey League Wireless Verizon Arena

Geographic location: St. John's, New England, Manchester, N.H. Los Angeles Manchester Portland Boston Toronto

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