Burnaby's Rizzo celebrates draft, trade

It’s not often you get to experience two of hockey’s biggest events in the span of two days.

Burnaby’s Massimo Rizzo did just that, and is thrilled to having had his name called twice.

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The slick centre was selected with the 216th pick Saturday in the NHL Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, a day before his rights were swapped to the Coquitlam Express.

“I definitely had the day marked on the calendar,” Rizzo said of the NHL draft, hosted by the Vancouver Canucks. “I was out with a couple of buddies, just walking on Ambleside (Park) to get my mind off of everything. I came home and sat around the TV with my parents and sister, and when I saw my name pop up it was definitely a pretty special moment for all of us.”

Originally listed as a possible third-to-fifth round prospect, Rizzo’s stock took a hit when he missed the first 21 games of the past B.C. Hockey League season due to a back injury. Barely a week after celebrating his 18th birthday, the five-foot-10 forward finished the season with the Penticton Vees, tallying 11 goals and 29 assists over 37 games.

Rizzo would count three goals and three assists in six playoff games.

Getting selected by Carolina, which trended on social media after their flashy home ice win celebrations got dissed by Don Cherry as “a bunch of jerks,” is really cool, he noted.

“It’s pretty cool. I was definitely intrigued watching throughout the year and seeing how the fans and everyone in the city rallied around them. They kind of had their own thing going and that carried into the playoffs and they had an unbelievable run and did really well.”

His offseason didn’t start out too hot, however. The former Vees captain went through tests to determine the cause of his recent back issues, with hip surgery being the recommendation.

Since the procedure, Rizzo said he’s feeling a lot better and looking forward to getting back on skates soon, although he concedes he won’t be ready for Coquitlam’s training camp.

“Obviously, (Coquitlam) knows about the injury and they want me to focus on getting healthy, rehabbing and getting back to 100 per cent and we’ll move on from there.”

The trade to Coquitlam was in the works for a while, Express coach/general manager Jason Fortier said.

“It wasn’t something that just happened,” said Fortier. “We’ve talked with him and worked on this deal for a while. It’s a situation where (Penticton) gives up a good player and he’s coming here, close to home and where he’ll continue his rehab. In all honesty, he chose us.”

It completed a swap that saw Alex DiPaolo dealt to the Okanagan earlier this month.

Rizzo’s rookie season in Penticton resulted in 13 goals and 26 assist over 50 games, and saw him selected to play for Canada at the World Hockey under-17 Challenge, where he tallied a goal and three assists over five games.

And while he embraces a return close to home, he leaves behind a good situation and a lot of friends.

“I obviously love Penticton, the organization and everybody there but it just made a bit more sense with the surgery, being home and being close to my rehab. Playing for a great organization and taking care of everything at once is an ideal situation,” noted Rizzo.

The Burnaby Winter Club alumnus already committed to the University of North Dakota, beginning in the 2020-21 season, and is looking forward to putting the rehabbing behind him.

“It’s getting better, for sure. Everything’s moving in the right direction. I’m feeling better every day but there’s still a little bit to go with the injury. We’ll see how it progresses. … I’m hopefully going to start skating in a month or so but it depends upon how things progress. I go down to see the surgeon here pretty soon and get some feedback from him.”

Fortier said the player’s return to the ice will be when he’s ready, and not before.

“There are a lot of checks before we want him to be in the lineup. He’s got to keep on rehabbing, working with the physio and follow the doctor’s orders. We won’t be rushing him. You don’t win a league title in September.”

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