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Massimo Rizzo commits to Denver Pioneers

By Eric Welsh, Chilliwack Progress

It’s been a few anxious months for Chilliwack Chiefs forward Massimo Rizzo, but a weight is off his shoulders with a commitment to Denver University.

The 19 year old made the bold decision to walk away from a commitment to the University of North Dakota in early July, believing he could play his way into a better situation. Then COVID hit, messing with the 2020-21 season in ways Rizzo could never have imagined.

“Honestly, it was a bit of a roller coaster of emotions after de-commiting,” the Burnaby product admitted. “Coming to Chilliwack expecting to play games, and then being unable to showcase myself, there was a lot of wondering what’s going to happen.

“But having the help of Brian (Chiefs hockey boss Maloney) and being in a good league like the BCHL, I was fortunate to get this (Denver) done. It’s a big relief.”

Rizzo said there was never any second-guessing his decision, no ‘what have I done’ moments.

“I think it was the right thing for me, so there wasn’t any of that,” he said. “But every time the season was pushed back, it was stressful and it has been frustrating.”

While Rizzo talks about desperately wanting to play games, the COVID-necessitated program the Chiefs have installed has been a blessing in disguise.

“Personally, I’ve missed the last couple of offseasons rehabbing injuries, so to have this much extra time in the gym, it’s definitely allowed me to put on weight and get stronger,” said Rizzo, who believes (hopes) he’s added 3-5 pounds of muscle mass. “Being on the ice as much as we have been lets us work on little things, and overall we can push our bodies harder because we’re not trying to manage it for Wednesday-Friday-Saturday games like we would during a normal season.”

Rizzo has watched several teammates leave lately. Forwards Tommy Lyons, Kienan Draper, Frankie Carogioello and Ayrton Marino and defencemen Luke Krys and Hudson Thorton departed for the USHL because they believed they needed to play games to develop.

Rizzo said he can see where they’re coming from, but what he’s doing is working for him.

“My body feels great. I feel better. I’m skating faster and feeling stronger and I can see my progress,” he said. “Every hockey player loves playing games. That’s why we play, so I can kind of see things from their perspective. But everyone’s situation and mindset is a little different, and for me, I love our program and our coaches and I’ve been benefitting a lot from that.”

Rizzo hopes to get some game action after Feb. 5 when, hopefully, provincial health orders relax.

“There’s going to be an adjustment period,” he said. “We’re pushing ourselves hard in practice to get as close as we can to game pace, but obviously being in a game against another team is a little different.

“But if we continue what we’re doing, it’ll make it easier to adjust.”