J.T. Schimizzi and Blake Rossi hobbled out from the locker room, skates on and panting from that day’s practice.
Rossi and Schimizzi share a friendship that has forged over the last decade. They are roommates, teammates and have what they call “the Latrobe connection.”
The Pennsylvania natives are as close as two teammates can be. Both were raised near Latrobe, a suburb of Pittsburgh, and grew up 15 minutes away from each other. They began playing hockey at young ages, and both began skating before they were in kindergarten.
The duo played together on the same team for nine years — from elementary school to the Esmark Stars 18U team. Rossi tallied 18 points in 26 games, and Schimizzi totaled 29 points in 30 games over two seasons.
“It’s an awesome organization,” Rossi said. “We played our whole entire lives, but the past two years we were both on (the Stars), and last year, we made it to nationals, which is the first that team had made it in probably 10 years.”
The nine-year streak was broken when Rossi joined the Amarillo Bulls and Schimizzi joined the Fairbanks Ice Dogs of the North American Hockey League last season. Neither saw much action. They can count on one hand the number of games they played for their respective teams. The two returned to the Stars at the end of the season.
Scouts took notice of the duo during their time at Latrobe and with the Stars. Former assistant coach for Ohio Mike Gugin approached each of them with offers to join the Bobcats. Schimizzi had family ties to Ohio, his older sister and cousins were alumni. The offer was too good to pass up.
“I let (Rossi) know that OU was gonna be my plan, and he was like, ‘Well, now I got to look into it, too,‘“ Schimizzi said. “It really worked out for the best that we were able to come here together.”
Rossi and Schimizzi are looking to refine their skills together again this season. They’re only two of an 11-player freshmen class, and they both want to prove they can step into key roles immediately. Schimizzi plays center and is actively looking to be more defensive-minded. Rossi wants to be more aggressive around the net and develop a stronger presence on the ice.
Improving is how the pair plans to contribute to the cause this season. The goal of any team is to win the national championship, but the Bobcats say it’s now or never. The two want to give back to the seniors that have provided for them by winning the American Collegiate Hockey Association national championship. The Bobcats lost in the national quarterfinals last year to Iowa State.
“The consensus from the seniors this year is that we gotta win this year,” Schimizzi said. “These guys have been working their butts off for years to get to that point, and we both just want to contribute and make that happen.”
Schimizzi and Rossi will get their chance to contribute once the season kicks into gear with the Green and White scrimmage on Sept. 14.