Massimo Rizzo, wearing No. 88 playing for Burnaby Winter Club, was the Kamloops Blazers' first-round pick yesterday at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft. GoTime Photography If Massimo Rizzo was a touch late for class this morning at Burnaby Central secondary, give the kid a break.
"I was in the kitchen and we were almost going to be late for school and I told my sister, 'I just want to keep watching,' said Rizzo, picked 15th overall by the Kamloops Blazers at today's WHL Bantam Draft, which began at 7:30 a.m.
"My mom was stressing out at work. My dad and sister were in the kitchen with me. Then my name got called. We were all just so happy. We were all celebrating.
"Then I left for school right away."
The 15th overall pick was actually the 14th overall pick, as the Portland Winterhawks were once again forced to forfeit their first-round selection (ninth overall) for violating player-benefit rules in 2012.
For the second straight year, the Blazers used their first pick to take a forward.
Director of player personnel Matt Recchi took the floor at Hotel Arts in Calgary to announce the Blazers had selected Rizzo, who racked up 60 goals and 137 points in 61 games last season with Burnaby Winter Club (BWC).
"He's a passionate player who brings a lot of emotion to the game and wears his heart on his sleeve and we believe one day he'll be a top-end player for us," Recchi said.
Rizzo, 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, is highly skilled, has great hands and an ability to light the lamp. He darted up Kamloops' draft board with heroics at the bantam AAA Western Canadian Championship in Okotoks in April.
With 2:36 remaining in the third period, Rizzo scored his second goal of the game, a scintillating short-handed marker that lifted BWC to a 3-2 victory over the Rocky Mountain Raiders in the gold-medal game.
"That just really put it over the top for us, seeing him at the Westerns elevate his game to another level," Recchi said. "He was the leader of his team, in terms of points, and the bigger the game, the bigger he played. That's what we like."
When it was time for the Blazers to pick in Round 2, the best remaining player on their draft board was also a forward, so they took him.
Connor Zary, a 5-foot-10, 150-pound left-hand shot from Saskatoon, was in school when his name was called, but his dad fielded a call from KTW.
"Connor knows the draft is just the beginning of the process," said Scott Zary, whose glee could be heard over the phone line.
"He knows there's lots of work ahead, but he's excited.
"There's not going to be no issue for a kid like Connor to play for Don Hay."
Zary had 44 goals and 81 points in 30 games with the bantam AA Saskatoon Outlaws in 2015-2016.
Neither Rizzo nor Zary are big-body forwards and Kamloops went small with its first pick last year in Jackson Shepard, a 5-foot-7 and 150-pound forward.
"They have big hearts and they're competitive guys," Recchi said. "We're not concerned. If you start concerning yourself with size, you get into a little bit of trouble."
The blue line was addressed in rounds three and four.
Kamloops took defenceman Quinn Schmiemann of the Notre Dame Hounds with the 59th overall pick in Round 3.
The 5-foot-11, 165-pound rearguard had eight goals and 22 points in 38 games with the Hounds last season.
In Round 4, with the 84th overall pick, Kamloops went with a bigger defenceman in Jimmy Darby, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound blue liner who played last season with North Shore Winter Club.
"With Schmiemann, he's a player that moves the puck well, a real intelligent player with a real good stick and a good skater," Recchi said.
"Darby is a big, steady guy with a hammer of a shot from the point."
The Blazers picked twice in Round 5, nabbing a pair of Sask Valley Vipers forwards -- 5-foot-8, 140-pound Kyrell Sopotyk and 5-foot-7, 130-pound Jerzy Orchard, who finished first and second, respectively, in Vipers' scoring last season.
Kamloops rounded out its 2016 draft class with five more picks -- 6-foot-1, 182-pound goaltender Blake Wood of Nanaimo in Round 8; 5-foot-11, 147-pound defenceman Matthew Ubriaco of Campbell River in Round 9; 6-foot-1, 165-pound forward Brody Green of Edmonton in Round 10; 5-foot-8, 140-pound forward Jagger Prosofsky of Saskatoon in Round 11; and 6-foot-1, 165-pound defenceman Nicksha Eric of Fort McMurray in Round 12.
The Blazers' 2016 draft class is composed of six forwards, four defencemen and one goalie, including five players from Saskatchewan, four from B.C. and two from Alberta.
"We wanted to select players who are competitive, that play with passion, heart and desire, and we'll take the best player, no matter where they're from," Recchi said.
It was a B.C. boy who landed on the Blazers' lap in Round 1.
Rizzo's grandparents have a cabin near Knouff Lake, where Massimo has spent time dirt biking in the summer and snowmobiling in the winter.
The family is planning to see much more of the Tournament Capital over the next five years or so.
"It was tough to sleep last night. I woke up early," Rizzo said. "When I got picked by Kamloops, I was ecstatic.
"I know they have a great coach and a great organization. Words can't even describe how happy I was."
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