Massimo Rizzo appears to have split from his commitment to play this season for the University of North Dakota.
The news, reported on Monday in the Grand Forks Herald, sparked interest among Kamloops Blazers’ followers holding onto hope of the NHL draftee playing in the Western Hockey League.
“We just heard about it today,” Blazers’ general manager Matt Bardsley told KTW on Monday. “We’ll be in touch with them to see if there is anything we should know, if there are any changes or if it’s just a matter of he’s looking to switch schools for his commitment.”
Remi Rizzo, Massimo’s father, was contacted for comment by KTW on Tuesday morning, but did not return the call before press deadline on Tuesday afternoon.
Rizzo was the Blazers’ first-round pick (15th overall) in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, a risk considering the family’s non-committal stance toward the WHL.
In his 15-year-old season, Rizzo notched 22 goals and 84 points in 48 games with Burnaby Winter Club’s midget prep team in 2016-2017.
The Blazers brought heavyweights — majority owner Tom Gaglardi, part-owner Shane Doan, then-general manager Stu MacGregor and then-head coach Don Hay — to a meeting with the Rizzos in June of 2017 in Vancouver, the quartet aiming to woo Rizzo to Kamloops.
He reported to the Penticton Vees of the junior A B.C. Hockey League for the 2017-2018 campaign. By doing so, he remained eligible to play in the NCAA ranks.
“I don’t think any doors have ever been closed,” Remi Rizzo told KTW in July of 2017. “If that was the case, it would have been a very short meeting with the boys last week. This is the right choice for this year and next year he re-evaluates what the best opportunity for development is then.”
Rizzo had 13 goals and 39 points in 50 games with the Vees in 2017-2018. He declared commitment to the University of North Dakota in May of 2018.
In 2018-2019, he captained the Vees during his injury-shortened 17-year-old campaign and racked up 11 goals and 40 points in 37 games.
Gaglardi told KTW in April of 2019 the ship has likely sailed on Rizzo playing for the Blazers.
“He’s had ample opportunities to join the club,” Gaglardi said. “His season ended early in Penticton and he didn’t make any attempt to reach out to join us. Minds can change over the summer on whether he still wants to go the U.S. college route. If he chooses not to, we’d like to see him in a Kamloops uniform.”
Rizzo, picked by the Carolina Hurricanes in Round 7 of the 2019 NHL Draft, was traded to the Coquitlam Express from the Vees in June of 2019, one day after the NHL Draft.
“We like the skill with Rizzo,” Hurricanes’ director of player personnel Darren Yorke told the Grand Forks Herald. “It’s a little unfortunate that he had the injury, but we felt that sort of was a benefit for us for him to be able to still be on the board in the seventh round. So, we feel that he can get healthy, he’s going to a great college, and that can really help his development.”
He missed the start of the 2019-2020 season as he recovered from surgery to repair a torn hip muscle, according to the Vancouver Province, but Rizzo finished the BCHL campaign in Coquitlam with 44 points, including 19 goals, in 42 games.
Matt Bardsley, who took the Blazers’ GM job in June of 2018, has tried to maintain lines of communication with the Rizzo family.
Kamloops is poised to compete for the B.C. Division crown, should the 2020-2021 WHL season take place, and Bardsley, the Western Conference’s executive of the year last season, has shown a knack for recruitment since joining the club.
The Rizzo family did not reach out to the Blazers’ camp prior to Massimo’s de-commitment from UND, making it unlikely he hopes to spend his 19-year-old campaign in the Tournament Capital.
But Bardsley will kick the tires anyway.
“The biggest thing is we try to keep a relationship there so, if there is ever a change, they feel comfortable coming somewhere where they’ve been in touch with the program consistently,” Bardsley said. “Hopefully, we’ll hear something back either way. Once we do, we’ll have better idea if they are maybe looking to come to Kamloops.”