Ryan Gropp has decided to go to the WHL after all.
Gropp, a Kamloops native, will join the Seattle Thunderbirds this morning, but he won't play in tonight's game against the Kamloops Blazers at Interior Savings Centre. The 17-year-old left winger had been with the BCHL's Penticton Vees, and had committed to attend the U of North Dakota in the fall of 2014.
Players changing their minds on which route to go - NCAA vs. the WHL - isn't anything new, but Gropp's timing is somewhat unusual. It was only three months ago that he had declared UND his destination, and he spent the first month of the season with the Vees.
Gropp said there wasn't any one reason for the change of heart.
"This is something I've always wanted to do, and it's where my heart is," Gropp said Tuesday. "It's pretty exciting, I'm looking forward to it."
The T-Birds selected Gropp in the first round, sixth overall, of the 2011 WHL bantam draft. He didn't join the team as a 16-year-old, opting instead to play in Penticton, and decided over the summer to go the college route.
Seattle, meanwhile, has had an excellent start to the season, winning eight of its first 10 games to sit first overall in the WHL. The Thunderbirds are led by Mathew Barzal, the No. 1 pick in the 2012 bantam draft who has 14 points in his first 10 games.
Gropp said he has been in contact with Barzal and Joe Hicketts, a Kamloops native now in his second season with the Victoria Royals.
"Yeah, a little - I'm good friends with both of them," Gropp said. "Talking with Matt, he was telling me what it's like down there (in Seattle)."
The T-Birds are getting a strong player in Gropp who, because of a late birthday, won't be eligible for the NHL draft until 2015. Gropp played in 50 games with the Vees last season, picking up 31 points, including 12 goals. Through 10 games this season, he had three goals and five assists.
Gropp actually moved to Penticton to play hockey in 2011, when he and Hicketts joined the Okanagan Hockey Academy.
"It was 2½ years - I spent a lot of time here," Gropp said. "It's sad to leave."
Gropp is planning to leave Penticton this morning, and will join the Thunderbirds in Kamloops.
Because of paperwork issues involved with playing for a team based in the U.S., Gropp can't play in tonight's game, and might not even make it into the lineup until next week.
"I'm not too sure on a timeline," Gropp said. "I'm hoping it will be done after the weekend."
Gropp will head to Seattle with the Thunderbirds after tonight's game. The T-Birds are scheduled to play host to the Prince George Cougars on Friday and the Swift Current Broncos on Saturday.
"There's definitely a lot of excitement, but also (some) nerves," Gropp said. "It's a new league, a new challenge. But I'm definitely looking forward to it."
Tonight's game is scheduled for 7 o'clock.