Part scout, part agent, Greenfield's Rizzo lands hockey's top talent
Before Western Pennsylvania became a hotbed for hockey talent, there was Dee Rizzo.
More than three decades after Rizzo became Pittsburgh youth hockey's first true star at Allderdice, he is still going strong.
Rizzo, 51, is part agent, part talent scout and full-time mentor for Creative Artists Agency (CAA), among the most powerful groups in professional sports. He represents Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones, the likely top two picks in Sunday's 2013 NHL Entry Draft in New Jersey.
“It seems like every time I see the draft,” Penguins president and CEO David Morehouse said, “Rizz is sitting beside the guy who got picked first.”
About 50 percent of the time during the past decade, Morehouse's observation has been correct. Rizzo's moral standard is the reason many believe he is so successful.
Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin trust him. So do Chicago standouts Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Those stars are all aligned with Rizzo, who scouted them when they were young and brought them to CAA.
“The world of youth hockey is normally dysfunctional,” Morehouse said. “But people latch on to Rizz for good reason. He's Pittsburgh. He's an Italian kid from Greenfield who means what he says and says what he means. He's loyal. That's why he's trusted. People like him are unique to the world of agents but not to Pittsburgh.”
Rizzo doesn't always like tactics used by agents.
“Some of these kids are so young that people are after,” he said. “There is a lot in the business that I don't like.”
The youngest player Rizzo ever actively scouted was a 14-year-old Crosby, who was already a celebrity.
“That was different,” Rizzo said. “That was Sid.”
Rizzo prides himself on not making promises he can't keep. His primary goal is to receive the trust of his players, and, by all accounts, he succeeds.
“He's the best,” said Pat Brisson, who represents Crosby and works with Rizzo. “What makes him special is both his eye for talent and the way he protects these kids. He just knows how to find the right people.”
Jones and MacKinnon, the consensus best two players in this draft, appear to be in good hands.
Rizzo's ability to land them for CAA was a combination of hard work, connections and instinct. There is little question that Rizzo knows talent when he sees it.
“I received a call from (former Penguins defenseman) Philippe Boucher about Seth Jones,” Rizzo said. “He told me about this kid in Texas that I needed to see. So I did.”
The personable Rizzo could have as many as six players drafted high Sunday.
“He is the kind of guy everybody likes being around,” Brisson said.
Despite the exposure he receives once every June, Rizzo is largely in the background. The low profile doesn't bother him.
“Two of my close friends are (Steelers general manager) Kevin Colbert and (Penguins general manager) Ray Shero,” he said. “They both have high-profile jobs, but they do things quietly. They don't seek the spotlight. I like that.”