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Budding star: West Van's Morgan Rielly ready for NHL debut
He didn’t grow up a diehard Maple Leafs fan, but this year Andy Rielly’s got Toronto’s early-season schedule memorized.
The Leafs opened on the road in Montreal on Tuesday, play another road game in Philly on Wednesday and then start the season at home with a Hockey Night in Canada tilt against provincial rival Ottawa on Saturday night.
And in any one of those games, Andy’s son Morgan may suit up for his first-ever regular season NHL game.
On Monday when the Maple Leafs submitted their final 23-man roster to start the NHL season Morgan Rielly’s name was on the list.
“We were very hopeful that things would go the way they did,” Andy said on Tuesday.
But Andy and his wife Shirley both understand “it’s just a step along the way” for their son, who was the fifth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Morgan is only 19 and Toronto has several veteran blueliners on the team, so the question becomes: What’s the best environment for him to develop? The NHL, where he may see less ice time or back in junior hockey, where he’ll get monster minutes?
Because he’s still eligible to play junior, Morgan can play up to nine games with the Leafs and still be returned to his WHL team without affecting the first year of his entry level pro contract.
For now, Andy’s just hoping to get a chance to see his son’s first NHL game. That’s why he’s got a “go bag” — some travel stuff — stashed in his vehicle right now that will allow him to go directly to the airport and hop a flight if he gets the word his son is in the lineup.
Even if he or his wife can’t make it to their son’s first game, there will be lots of support inside Toronto’s Air Canada Centre for Morgan, who has a large family contingent living in southern Ontario.
Since news broke that Morgan had made the team on Monday, Andy’s phone hasn’t stopped ringing. “[The family living in Ontario] are so excited to have somebody they know play for the Leafs,” he says.
Amazingly, Morgan may not be the only 19-year-old rookie defenceman from West Vancouver making his NHL debut this week.
Longtime family friend and minor hockey teammate Griffin Reinhart, who was selected fourth overall in the 2012 by the New York Islanders, also made his club’s 23-man roster on Monday and may play his first game soon too. Both players played minor hockey together at Hollyburn and also attended the Sentinel hockey academy.
Diane Nelson, district principal for West Vancouver School District’s sports academies, isn’t surprised by the success of either player.
“Morgan has been the ultimate role model for our young athletes, consistently displaying an outstanding work ethic and a quiet determination to stay focused on his goals. As a young hockey player, it was evident Morgan was highly skilled, but what really stood out was his tremendous understanding of the game,” she wrote in an email. “We are all extremely proud of him...and who knows, some of us might even become Leaf fans!
As for Reinhart, she added: “It is without a doubt that we knew early on that Griffin was destined toward an extraordinary path in hockey displaying such outstanding hockey skills. We are all tremendously proud and excited to watch Griffin’s ongoing success as he moves to the level of the NHL.”