- BC Games
The life of Rielly: West Van hockey product sticks with the Leafs
Don Cherry was right. The Toronto Maple Leafs had no choice but to keep talented defenceman Morgan Rielly on the roster — even though he's only 19.
Last Saturday, the colourfully tailored Hockey Night in Canada commentator gushed about the West Van teenager, saying "You know everybody is asking me 'Morgan Rielly, should they send him back (to junior)?' Here's the problem, this kid is dynamite, he's the best defenceman they got…. They can't send him back as far as I'm concerned."
Dapper Don doesn't have to worry. On Thursday, the Leafs announced that Rielly would remain with the NHL club this season.
Rielly may still be returned to his Western Hockey League club in Moose Jaw this season but he cannot be sent down to the Leafs American Hockey League affiliate because he's still eligible to play junior hockey.
Rookie players who still have junior eligibility remaining can play up to nine NHL games without burning a season on their pro entry-level contract. Rielly plays his ninth game Friday against Columbus.
Rielly was the fifth overall selection of the Leafs in the 2012 NHL draft. Longtime family friend and minor hockey teammate Griffin Reinhart was selected fourth overall in the same draft by the New York Islanders. Reinhart was on the Islander's 23-man roster to start the season but has since been returned to his junior team.
Rielly texted his father Andy on Thursday with the exciting news that he was sticking with the team.
Earlier this month Andy and his wife Shirley had prime seats inside the Air Canada Centre to watch their son's first NHL game, which happened to be Toronto's home-opener against Ottawa on Oct. 5.
"It was pretty emotional for me an Shirley. It was the first time in an NHL game I'd seen him on the ice," says Andy, who coached his son in minor hockey.
"It was like 'Is this really happening?'"
After a few unlucky breaks in the first period, Rielly quickly got acclimatized to the NHL pace and finished the game with over 18 minutes of ice time, including some shifts in the overtime period.
"[Coach Randy Carlye] just kept playing [Morgan and defense partner] and as the game went on he got more comfortable," says Andy.
After the game, the Riellys made their way to the Leafs' family room where they met the family of Phil Kessel and said hello to former Canuck Mayson Raymond and some other Leafs they've gotten to know since Morgan was drafted.
Afterwards they went over to a nearby sports bar with their son to celebrate.
"As a parent, the experience [of seeing him play in the NHL] would be pretty close to the top," says Andy. "It's pretty special."