‘AAA’ Wheaties’ Ritchie following in father’s footsteps

More than 20 years after his father, Darren Ritchie, played for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, son Nolan is a rising star in the Manitoba Midget ‘AAA’ Hockey League and a Wheat King prospect.

When you are selected as the CTV Sports Star of the Week when you’re just 14 years old, it’s a good indication you’re on the right path for bigger and better things in your chosen sport.

And that’s certainly been the case for Brandon’s Nolan Ritchie, one of the rising stars of the Manitoba Midget ‘AAA’ Hockey League.

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Playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings Midget ‘AAA’ squad, the 16-year-old Ritchie has picked up right where he left off last season. After putting up 40 goals and 84 points in 45 games as a rookie, Ritchie sits in second place in league scoring with 14 goals and 21 assists in just 19 games this season.

The five foot seven and a half inch, 155-pound centerman has consistently demonstrated he is one of the premier talents in the Manitoba midget ranks.

“I have some good line mates this year, and we’ve been finding the puck well so far,” said Ritchie, the day after the Wheat Kings edged the Winnipeg Thrashers in a shootout in which he scored a power-play goal, a short-handed goal and added two assists. “We’re finding the back of the net and moving the puck around well. I guess I’ve picked right up where I left off from last year.”

Ritchie is impressive offensively, but as he describes his all-around game, you can tell this young player knows it takes more than the ability to score to achieve his hockey aspirations.

“I would say I’m a two-way forward. I play well in both ends of the rink and I can play in every situation, and bury the puck if I need to,” he said.

With such gaudy statistics in his resume, it should come as little surprise that his rights were gobbled up in the 2017 Western Hockey League bantam draft. To his delight, Ritchie was selected by his hometown Brandon Wheat Kings in the third round, 56th overall.

“It was pretty awesome when I heard I had been drafted by them,” said Ritchie. “I grew up watching them and always dreamed of playing with them. So when it happened, it was unreal.”

An interesting sidebar to his being drafted by the Wheat Kings is that his father, Darren Ritchie (a WHL Wheat Kings all-star alumni himself), was the head of scouting.

“He told me he didn’t have much to do with drafting me,” noted Ritchie. “All the other scouts wanted to pick me, so he didn’t have any say in that. But he was really excited I was drafted by the Wheat Kings.”

Darren Ritchie, long-time fans will remember, led the Wheat Kings in goal scoring back in 1994-95 with 62 goals in 69 games, playing alongside the likes of Marty Murray, Chris Dingman and Wade Redden. That team made it all the way to the WHL final where they lost in six games to the Kamloops Blazers.

Nolan Ritchie is certainly a coveted talent. It may surprise some that he wasn’t also drafted by a Manitoba Junior Hockey League team. Some MJHL teams will take a chance on talent who are good enough for the WHL, in case they opt to go the college route. They’ll even draft them if they think they would play as a 16-year-old on their team. There have been some dandy 16-year-old rookies in the MJHL who have gone on to star in the WHL or other leagues after a year of junior A hockey.

The Dauphin Kings did list Nolan Ritchie after the 2017 MJHL draft, but not much came of it.

“After I got listed, I never really heard from them since,” said Ritchie. “I thought staying at home made sense. I thought it would be good to be a big part of this (midget ‘AAA’ team), and play a lot of good minutes. I thought that would be better than going somewhere else and maybe not playing as many minutes.”

Hockey has become a year-round profession, even at the junior level. Ritchie says he works out in the off-season to try and add some bulk to his still-growing body. But he is a 16-year-old kid and does find other ways to enjoy himself – sometimes at the expense of his father.

“I sometimes go to the lake and play golf with my dad. My game is pretty good. I beat my dad a lot this year, and he wasn’t too happy with it,” he said with a laugh.

You can catch the Brandon Wheat Kings Midget ‘AAA’ squad at home this Saturday and Sunday (Dec. 1 and 2) as they take on the visiting Interlake Lightning and Central Plains Capitals. You can find their entire schedule, statistics and more at www.mbaaamidget.ca.

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