Rookie Ellis Rickwood at home in Victoria Grizzlies’ den

Grizzlies rookie forward Ellis Rickwood has 21 points so far in preseason play.

Cleve Dheensaw / Times Colonist
NOVEMBER 17, 2020 10:02 PM

It’s as good as omens get.

Ellis Rickwood attended the same elementary school, Greenbrier, as fellow Brantford, Ont., native Wayne Gretzky. But it’s a more contemporary NHL player, Mitch Marner, who is Rickwood’s favourite player.

Whoever Rickwood patterns himself after, it’s working. The Grizzlies rookie revelation placed tied for second in the round-robin portion of the B.C. Hockey League Island Cup tournament. He is part of the dynamic offence that led the Grizzlies into the Island Cup championship game against the Nanaimo Clippers on Tuesday night at The Q Centre. The Grizzlies’ Alex DiPaolo, committed to NCAA Div. 1 Colgate, was atop the BCHL preseason scoring parade with 21 points. Rickwood, Victoria teammate Cody Monds, bound for NCAA Div. 1 Providence College, and fifth-round Buffalo Sabres 2020 NHL draft-pick Matteo Costantini of the Penticton Vees were tied for second with 20 points each.

“The Grizzlies approach to playing really fits my style,” said Rickwood.

Victoria’s dynamic offence, however, could not overcome Nanaimo sniper Sean Donaldson’s ninth and 10th goals of the preseason in the 5-4 Clippers victory in the Island Cup final. Rickwood scored once for Victoria, on an assist from Monds, while DiPaolo had a goal and an assist and Andrew Amousse two goals.

The Island Cup was the extended preseason tournament in the pandemic-altered BCHL campaign. The Grizzlies finished the round-robin portion as the top seed at 8-3-3, the Clippers the second seed at 9-5 and the Alberni Bulldogs the third seed at 6-6-2. Nanaimo beat Alberni Valley 8-2 in the Island Cup semifinal game Monday at The Q Centre.

Now Rickwood and the ­Grizzlies look ahead to the tentative start to the 32-game BCHL regular season next month. The experience so far has been an eye-opener for the graduate of the Greater Ontario Junior B Hockey League, in which he had 17 goals and 62 points in 50 games as a rookie last season for the Kilty B’s of Hamilton.

“This is definitely a step up,” said Rickwood.

That became evident to him when he was put on the Grizzlies’ second line with Chase McInnis, committed to NCAA Div. 1 Northeastern, and Eddie Yan, on the long list to play for host China in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

In addition, the Island Cup semifinals and final featured NHL draft picks Gianni Fairbrother, taken in the third round by the Montreal Canadiens and on loan to Nanaimo from the Everett Silvertips of the WHL, and NCAA Harvard-bound centre Ryan Tverberg of Alberni Valley, selected in the seventh round by the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Grizzlies feature forward Payton Mount and defenceman Luke Bateman from the Seattle ­Thunderbirds of the WHL.

“These are all great players. I was confident I had the talent for this level but wasn’t sure how I would do,” said Rickwood.

He’s doing just fine, as it is turning out. So much so that his breakout performance in the Island Cup has attracted the interest of NCAA Div. 1 scouts. That was the plan when he chose this route over major-junior, to which he was selected 10th overall in the first round of the Ontario Hockey League U-18 draft by the Peterborough Petes. Being 18-years-old and six-foot-one and 200 pounds, with a clear upside to grow and improve into, has piqued interest even more among NCAA Div. 1 teams.

“I’ve had some introductory calls from NCAA teams but a lot of them say they don’t like to base decisions on video, so I don’t expect much to happen in that regard until more in-person scouting is possible,” he said.

“We are one of the only hockey leagues playing so are getting lots of eyes on us from [NCAA and NHL] scouts. But you have to put all that stuff in the back of your mind and just play hockey.”

Asked to describe his game, Rickwood replied: “I like to think I’m a smart player who sees the game well and can score.”

Which harkens to his role model Marner: “He’s a great all-round player who’s fast and can score.”

It’s a long way from the NHL, but it’s the kind of relative flash Rickwood is displaying in the BCHL. And NCAA scouts have started to notice.

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