A BCHL player who is 19 years old, an established point-per-game producer and National Hockey League draft pick with international experience and a championship pedigree is not supposed to be available.
A player who checks all those boxes is one a general manager will cling to like a life preserver.
So the obvious question for Massimo Rizzo when he arrived at the Chilliwack Coliseum Tuesday was, ‘Why are you here?’
“Coming back to the league this year, I met Brian (Chiefs hockey boss Maloney) at last year’s World Junior A (Challenge) and started that relationship,” Rizzo explained. “I got to know him a little bit, and when I was talking to Carolina (NHL Hurricanes), we both thought it would be a good fit to come to Chilliwack and develop under Brian and the rest of the staff.”
The trade for the talented forward was finalized Monday as the Chiefs sent forward Arlo Merritt and future considerations to the Coquitlam Express.
It took a while to pull together.
Rizzo said everything started near the end of the summer with a tough conversation he had to have with the Express.
“They had a new coach (Dan Cioffi) and new staff and I didn’t know what they were like, so it was definitely a tough conversation,” Rizzo said. “But it all worked out in the end.”
Rizzo won a championship with the Express last season, He was also part of the Penticton Vees Fred Page Cup winners in 2017, when they beat the Chiefs in seven games and captured the title at the Chilliwack Coliseum.
The team he joins has championship dreams this season. Maloney has loaded up the roster, and the Rizzo trade is a tone-setter as the team prepares to start the season in December.
“I’ve played on some pretty good teams, so the one thing I can definitely bring to a locker room is experience,” said Rizzo, who captain Penticton in 2018-19. “I’ve learned different things with different teams and I can add some leadership to this room.
“The one thing I learned at all those stops is to bring your best to the rink every day.”
As we said off the top, Rizzo is a proven point-producer at the junior A level, with 147 in 160 regular season and playoff games.
He is coming off offseason hip surgery, which could impact his play.
But if anything, Rizzo suggested he’ll be even better now that an ongoing issue has been fixed.
“I had my left hip done last year and once I got that done I felt so much faster out there,” Rizzo said. “It was just a nagging injury that had a lot to do with my skating, and once it was cleared up it felt a lot better.”
“I think it’ll be the same getting the right hip fixed.”
In a weird sort of way, COVID is proving beneficial to Rizzo.
Normally he’d have rushed through rehab and been a month and a half into the season already, but because of the pandemic he’s getting extra time to rehab and make sure he’s 100 per cent ready to roll.
“With all the downfall, it kind of worked out for me,” Rizzo said with a laugh. “I’ve had more time to finish rehab and get stronger before the real season starts.”
There is a lot at stake for the Burnaby product once real games start.
He de-committed to the University of North Dakota a while back and is looking for a new NCAA home, and he’s looking to show the Hurricanes he’s still on track with his development.
“I’m just going to start playing games, show schools what I can do and go from there,” Rizzo said.
The newcomer and his Chiefs teammates hit the ice for a pair of home games this weekend.
They’ll face the Surrey Eagles for the sixth time this month, facing off Friday night with a 7 p.m. start at the Chilliwack Coliseum.
They’ll get their first look at Rizzo’s old squad when the Express skate into town Saturday night.
The start time for that one is also 7 p.m.
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