Penticton Vees captains have been very good to the UND men’s hockey program in recent years.
And now, UND has another one on the way.
Highly touted prospect Massimo Rizzo has given a verbal commitment to UND, ending a long recruiting battle for the Burnaby, B.C., product.
Rizzo, who committed Friday morning and announced it Saturday afternoon, chose UND over Denver, Wisconsin and Michigan.
He is expected to come to campus in the fall of 2019.
“I definitely knew it was an amazing program,” Rizzo said. “I’ve been talking to them for about two years now, learning more and more about them every day. I have a really good bond with their coaches. I know a lot of players in their program right now, and I’ve heard a lot of amazing stuff about it.”
Rizzo will captain Penticton in the British Columbia Hockey League this upcoming season. The last three Penticton captains to come to Grand Forks: Troy Stecher, Tyson Jost and Nick Jones.
Rizzo, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound forward, could fit right in along with those three.
He tallied 38 points in 50 games as a 16-year-old in the BCHL last season. He was second among 2001-born players in scoring in the league and was generally regarded as the top uncommitted prospect out of the BCHL.
Rizzo visited UND a year and a half ago.
“It was pretty breathtaking, to be honest,” Rizzo said. “Once you walk into the arena, it’s kind of like walking into an NHL rink. The facilities are unbelievable. It’s super high class. I feel like that’s what it’s like in the NHL, how they treat their players at North Dakota.”
Rizzo played both left wing and center for the Vees last season, but projects to be a center longterm.
His 2019 arrival could be timely for the Fighting Hawks, whose top two centers this season will both be seniors (Rhett Gardner, Jones).
Rizzo said he models his game after players like New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal and Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brayden Point.
“Puck possession,” he said. “I like to be creative, have fun out there, try different things while playing in the team system, and working hard.”
Rizzo has maintained his college eligibility despite being a high pick in the Western Hockey League draft. Rizzo was taken in the first round by Kamloops in 2016.
“It was a hard decision, especially being from Western Canada,” Rizzo said of playing college instead of in the WHL. “Just seeing the success of players going through college and to the NHL, and feeling that I needed a bit more time to develop and grow and get stronger, and talking to people who went that route and the experience they had, that’s kind of why I decided to do it.”