Becoming a fan favourite with a junior hockey club is one thing, and it’s another to do it in your first season, but after meeting Ottawa 67’s forward Vinzenz Rohrer, it’s not hard to see why the Austrian import has left a lasting mark on Ottawa, despite playing just one season so far.
Rohrer was selected by the 67’s in the first round, 27th-overall, in the 2021 CHL Import Draft, and joined the Barber Poles ahead of the 2021-22 season. When the time came to decide if he would come to Canada or stay in Europe, Rohrer was only 16 years old (just about to turn 17), and it wasn’t an easy choice. Eventually, however, he took the leap, committing to the 67’s in July of 2021.
“It was a tough decision,” Rohrer said. “For me, I had all of my friends and family [in Europe], and Zurich was always great for me. They gave me an apartment and everything was going in the right direction.”
“I was thinking about maybe not coming to Ottawa, but on the other hand, Jan Egert was always calling and [they wanted a decision],” Rohrer continued. “Probably the thing that made me decide to go was the good hockey here, but also the chance at 17 years old to move to a different culture and live abroad.”
Rohrer, who is exceptionally mature for his age, settled into Ottawa quickly. Previous experiences while playing hockey prepared him to move to a new country, speak a new language, and learn a new culture, and he was quick to make the best of it. He made new friends in the dressing room, he won fans over with his sparkly personality, and he impressed scouts on the ice.
“When people would ask me if I was homesick in Ottawa, I would always tell them [no],” Rohrer said. “It was always a little different from me. From the time I was 14, I lived in my own apartment in Zurich, mostly without my parents. Back then, I already had to cook on my own, you gotta do your laundry on your own, you’ve gotta clean up your bed at some point.”
“I wanted to try [playing in the OHL]. If they kicked me out after a few weeks, I could have still gone back to Zurich, but I just wanted to try it. It was a really good season for me.”
“I think it really helps. Maybe not even just for the NHL, but there is so much experience when you come into another culture. I think it’s great for young people, and if they can do it, they should.”
On the ice, Rohrer was one of the bright spots on a 67’s team primed for the future. While the wins didn’t flow as they did in the two previous seasons, Rohrer led the team in goals with 25, and in points with 48. He finished second on the team in assists with 23, but also led the 67’s in power-play goals with three, and short-handed goals with two.
Rohrer was a phenomenal addition to the roster, and as the season progressed into its later stages, you could see the drastic improvements he had made in various categories. His leadership became more evident, his shot improved, as well as his tendency to shoot the puck became more frequent, and he remained one of the smartest players on the ice. His work ethic was impressive, and it caught the eyes of scouts, who ranked him as a ‘B’ prospect consistently throughout the season. The once unheard-of Rohrer had gained some attention, and he knew he would likely be getting a phone call eventually during the draft.
“Within the year, honestly, yes,” Rohrer said when asked if he thought about being drafted. “If you would have asked me before the year when I was playing in Zurich, no, not really, that wasn’t the plan. During the season with all of the rankings going on and teammates telling you that you’re going in that direction, you kinda knew it.”
Still, it wasn’t a straightforward year for Rohrer. There was a lot of change from what he was used to at home, and there were lessons that he had to learn the hard way along the journey in his first OHL season.
“It’s different,” Rohrer said. “You have way more games in Ottawa [and the OHL] than I had in Zurich, it was almost double the amount in the regular season. I guess a big thing for me when I came over was my recovery. You have to know how to recover, and if you don’t know how to do that, you’re at some point not going to be at your best.”
“There were some everyday little things, too,” he continued. “Coach is right there every day, and when you make a mistake in a drill, you really hear it from him.”
Now in the offseason, Rohrer has had some time to unwind and enjoy life, but not much. He’s flown around the world to be at events including the NHL Combine, and later this summer, he is going to represent Austria at the rescheduled World Juniors.
“It has been great, and I’m really enjoying my summer now,” Rohrer said. “I’ve played way too much golf, but I’ve been trying to play more golf than hockey. I’ve really enjoyed spending time with the family, but it has been a pretty busy summer with the combine and always flying back and forth. There’s a lot of jet lag, but it’s obviously better to take the jet lag than miss those events.”
He’s unsure if his golf game is on par with what he can do in hockey, but like he likely would in hockey, there’s a very good chance that Rohrer would embarrass you on the golf course, too.
“It depends what you say is good,” Rohrer said, trying not to hype himself up too much. “On a normal course, around an 82 is probably my normal score on a par-72 course. I shoot about 10 over, but I only started last summer.”
Picking up a new sport and being good at it is nothing new for Rohrer. He was once a tennis player who won the Austrian national junior tennis championship, and he says playing different sports is just one of his hobbies.
“I’ve always played different sports,” admitted Rohrer. “I played five years with a soccer club, I played a year of basketball, and it has kinda been my thing. Being good in sports other than hockey has been my thing.”
His ability to pick things up and just be good at them is only part of what made him so popular with the 67’s.
“I just think that sometimes people appreciate honesty and positive energy,” Rohrer said. “What was always important for me was my parents telling me and making sure that I don’t say something unless I really think it. You don’t always have to make a problem out of things. Maybe it was my open-mindedness, or maybe it was just because I come from Europe,” he joked.
In the 67’s locker room, Rohrer has become a leader, but it’s not something he has forced. It has taken time as he has earned the respect of his peers, and it has taken dedication to his craft, but now, players on the team look to him as an example of what you should be doing.
“It really depends on the person,” said Rohrer. “I think it’s way more authentic when it comes naturally. For me, the leader isn’t always the guy who comes up and says what you should do. A good leader is someone that you can talk to, but also listens to you. It’s someone who leads by example.”
For some, the pre-draft interview process can be a stressful time. But for Rohrer, it’s just another twist in the road that should be enjoyed.
“I think you can really make them stressful,” Rohrer said. “It’s really how you go about those interviews. If you think that you always have to have the right answer, I think you’re going to have it tough with all those questions and interviews.”
“If you go to those interviews and just be yourself and just say what you think is right, [it won’t be]. Just go with your feeling, and say ‘that’s my feeling, it can’t really be wrong,’ then the interviews are pretty interesting, honestly.”
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