The recent NHL Draft in Vancouver proved to be a big weekend for Massimo Rizzo.
The slick centreman who grew up in Burnaby was picked 216th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, June 22. The next day, he became the newest member of the Coquitlam Express after his former BC Junior Hockey League team, the Penticton Vees, traded him to complete an earlier deal for Alex DiPaolo.
Rizzo said both events were a thrill, albeit for different reasons.
Originally projected as a possible third-to-fifth round prospect, Rizzo’s stock took a hit when he missed the first 21 games last season due to a back injury. The absence hurt his stats line as he tallied 11 goals and 29 assists in 37 games, then another six points in six playoff games.
It was a bit of a pause in Rizzo’s progression, after he scored 13 goals and 26 assists in his rookie season with the Vees and was also selected to play for Canada at the World Hockey under-17 Challenge.
He also committed to the University of North Dakota.
That’s now on hold until the 2020-’21 season so Rizzo can further rehabilitate his back after off-season surgery to his hip to correct the problem.
Express coach and general manager Jason Fortier said the team has coveted Rizzo for some time and he isn’t too concerned about the injury that will likely keep him from training camp.
“We won’t be rushing him,” Fortier said. “You don’t win a league title in September.”
Rizzo said he kept a close eye on the draft, watching it unfold on TV with his parents and sister.
“I definitely had the day marked on my calendar,” he said, adding when he saw his name pop onto the screen, “it was definitely a pretty special moment for all of us.”
Rizzo said getting picked by the Hurricanes was especially cool after the team became a social media sensation last season for its elaborately choreographed victory celebrations on home ice.
“I was definitely intrigued watching through the year and seeing how the fans and everyone in the city rallied around them,” Rizzo said of his potential future employers. “They kind of had their own thing going.”
But thoughts of being a part of those celebrations are still a long way off, Rizzo said. For now his focus is on getting healthy and getting into the Express’ lineup.
“We’ll move on from there,” he said.