July 4 was a big day for Penticton Vees forward Ryan Gropp.
It began with an invitation to the Hockey Canada selection camp for the under-18 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in the Czech Republic and Slovakia in August. Later that evening, the Kamloops resident announced on Twitter that he committed to the University of North Dakota for the 2014-15 season.
“It has been an eventful past couple of days for Ryan and his family the invitation to U-18 selection camp and now a commitment to UND,” said Vees coach Fred Harbinson in a team statement. “Ryan has had a lot of options to choose from over the past year and our organization is extremely proud of Ryan and look forward to helping him grow as a player.”
Gropp is one of 42 players vying to earn a spot on Canada’s 22-man roster. He’s also just one of two players in the Canadian Junior Hockey League going. The six-foot-three, 190-pound winger was excited to get the call, saying he wasn’t sure when it was going to happen. Now he’s just trying to be prepared to go up against the best players.
“Do all the things you normally do. Play your own game, it’s important,” said Gropp of the approach he will take into camp. “It’s a short camp so you have to do something to stand out right away.”
Gropp has donned the maple leaf before representing Hockey Canada with Team Pacific at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge last season. In 2012, Gropp earned the bronze medal representing Canada at the 2012 Youth Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria. Even with these experiences, he expects to feel some nerves and said the U-18 camp is tremendous for him.
“It’s been crazy every time I represented Canada,” he said. “It’s been nothing but a good experience. They really run their programs well. Just looking forward to hopefully doing it again.”
Harbinson said Gropp’s invite is a sign that he is one of the better players in the country.
“A lot of times that kind of opens players eyes to what they need to continue to do to stay on pace as an elite player,” told the Western News. “Gives some confidence at times too to say, ‘Hey, I can be one of the best players in the country at my age.’”
Whether Gropp makes the team or not, Harbinson said it will help him have a good start to his second BCHL season.
As for joining North Dakota, that was a “no-brainer” decision for Gropp and his family following their visit.
“It blew us away. Unreal facility,” said Gropp. “We felt pretty comfortable with the coaching staff. I wanted to make a decision and now I’m just really excited for that too.”
While having former Vees teammates Troy Stecher and Wade Murphy at the school didn’t play a large role in his decision, it has him excited.
“They told me good things. I’m really looking forward to playing with them again,” said Gropp, who was also looking at other schools.
A strong academic program combined with the campus not being too large was attractive to Gropp.
“I like the small-town feel,” said Gropp, who will play one more season with the Vees. “They are one of the top hockey schools out there. Pretty grateful for the opportunity. I will work hard to make an impact down there.”
In committing to UND, Gropp also joins former Vees Mark MacMillan and Brendan O’Donnell. Gropp admitted he had considered playing major junior, but after talking with his family, he decided staying in junior A and playing in the National Collegiate Athletic Association was the best direction for him.
The 16-year-old is coming off a rookie season in which he was named the BCHL Rookie of the Year. He recorded 12 goals and 31 points in 50 games and was the youngest player in the league. During the Fred Page Cup playoffs, Gropp kept up with his regular season pace, scoring four goals and finishing with nine points in 15 games.
In other Vees news, Harbinson confirmed that forward Louie Nanne will not be returning next season. The parting is a mutual decision. Nanne will be having surgery on both his shoulders and isn’t expected to return to action until near Christmas. That is close to roster deadline. With the CJHL changing its rules on imports with the number of players that a team can have and making Americans permanent imports, the club had to change direction in how they were using Nanne’s roster spot. Harbinson said Nanne will play in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, close to home in Minnesota. On July 11, the Vees acquired the playing rights of forwards Ben Dalpe and Tim Moore from the Pembroke Lumber Kings in the Central Canada Hockey League for future considerations. Dalpe is the younger brother of former Vee and current Carolina Hurricane forward Zac Dalpe.
“He’s just a kid that has gotten better and better over the last couple years,” said Harbinson of Dalpe who played for Canada East last year. “He is coming into his own. I think he is going to add some scoring up front for us. Just a hard working kid. Great character kid.”
The Vees will be speaking with Moore to see if he will join the team. He has plans to play for the Amarillo Bulls in the North American Hockey League and has a scholarship.