The 17-year-old Canadiens prospect spent a decade playing tennis before electing to pursue his hockey career full-time because the “team aspect” was far more appealing to him.
Now, Rohrer is reaping the benefits of his valuable experience on the court with the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s.
The former Austrian national junior tennis champion scored a team-leading 25 goals last season in his first campaign in Canada, seven of which came on the power play.
He estimates that a handful of those power-play snipes were a direct result of the elite hand-eye coordination skills he developed while serving and volleying his way to victory.
“Tennis really worked well for the coordination of my hands and feet. I played the whole power play in front of the net in Ottawa because I said to the other guys, ‘If you shoot a normal puck, a normal wrister at the net, I’m going to deflect it nine out of 10 times.’ I really emphasized that with our defenseman at the top of the zone, Jack Matier,” explained Rohrer, who was a third-round pick (75th overall) last month. “The guys on the flanks are mostly ripping one-timers or walking in and ripping shots, which is tough to deflect. I’m more of a screen guy. That’s why I always told our defenseman at the top, ‘If you have a lane, shoot it. Don’t even think about where there’s an opening or whether to go high or low, just shoot it at the net if you have a lane and I’m going to deflect it.’ That was kind of the strategy.”
The Feldkirch native recalls being shuffled “to the flank position at some point” for a couple of practices and games, and he quickly felt out of place.
Rohrer loves being in the thick of things. There’s no denying that.
“At that point, I went to the coach and said, ‘I really like it in front of the net. I’m not scared of the puck and I like to deflect pucks,’ so that’s how we did it on the power play,” mentioned Rohrer, who paced the 67’s in scoring with 48 points in 64 regular-season games, too. “Some of my goals were straight tip-ins and some were tip-ins off rebounds from the goalie’s pads.”
The youngster also benefited mentally from his extensive tennis background.
Playing an individual sport can be a grind, especially when things aren’t necessarily going your way, but it made him stronger upstairs.
“Tennis is a single sport, so I think you can’t really hide behind other people. In hockey, if you don’t have a good game, maybe a scout can really tell that you didn’t have a good game, but if you don’t have a good game and you struggle mentally in tennis, it’s obvious. Everybody sees it,” said Rohrer, minutes after being selected at the Bell Centre four weeks ago. “That’s something you can kind of relate to, not even in hockey, just life-wise. I think you can really learn from other sports.”
Rohrer was primarily introduced to tennis by family members and simply followed in their footsteps.
His father, Stefan Lochbihler, was a former professional who reached a career-best world ranking of No. 141, won a 1989 ATP Challenger Tour title, and currently serves as a national coach for Liechtenstein.
His older brother, Niklas, plays as well, and he recently earned the first ATP points of his career in doubles at an ITF Futures tournament on home soil in Kottingbrunn.
As for the NHL hopeful’s playing style back in the day…
“I was a guy that was all over the place. I always played serve and volley. I played unusual, I guess. I wasn’t the type of guy that was striking 50 balls back and forth. I was the guy that went in front of the net and made a lot of stops,” described Rohrer. “Sometimes, I also made some shots that were way too aggressive. That was my game.”
His tennis influences growing up included 22-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal and Frenchman Gael Monfils.
Both players caught his eye in very different ways.
“It was Nadal’s attitude and how he acts on the court. He has that hunger and he never lets his emotions get the best of him. That was the thing I really loved about him,” explained Rohrer. “And Monfils is the type of player that I was. I was always the guy that could run pretty fast and get to every ball. He does the same thing.”
Nadal remains one of his favorites, but Argentinian Diego Schwartzman is a close second.
“He kind of reminds me of my brother. My brother is really short and Diego is really short, too,” joked Rohrer, referencing the 5-foot-7 ATP Tour veteran. “My brother loves him, so I also enjoy watching him.”
Monfils and Schwartzman are competing in the 2022 National Bank Open at IGA Stadium in Montreal, which gets underway with qualifying on Saturday.
Rohrer won’t be in attendance, unfortunately, but he’s hoping to catch the coverage from overseas as the event continues.
And even though golf has become his main downtime activity, he remains an avid tennis fan.
“It’s kind of on our TV all the time in the house with my dad and my brother around. When I was younger, I probably watched every Top 10 forehand highlight video there is on YouTube,” concluded Rohrer with a laugh. “But, I still watch a lot of tennis.”