CHN EXCLUSIVE: 1-on-1 With Avalanche Prospect Calum Ritchie

Colorado Hockey Now

Colorado Avalanche prospect Calum Ritchie is off to a dynamite start in the Ontario Hockey League this year. With 58 points in just 35 games, his 1.66 points-per-game average puts him fourth in the league.

What might be most impressive about his start is that the majority of his points are coming at even strength. Compared to the other top scorers in the OHL, he’s doing a lot of his work away from the man advantage.

Ritchie took the time to talk to me over the phone on Wednesday about several topics. We discussed the injury he had to play through last year, his recovery from shoulder surgery, how Nathan MacKinnon inspired him, and a lot more. Check out the exclusive interview with the top prospect of the Avalanche below. Special thanks to Calum for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak to me, and to Oshawa PR rep Anna Twohey for setting up the interview.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Last time we spoke was at development camp. At that time, you had hoped to play in the Rookie Tournament. What was the recovery process like from the shoulder surgery, and did it taken any longer than you initially anticipated?

Ritchie: I figured it would be a six month thing. That’s kind of common with that procedure. Obviously, I wanted to come back as soon as possible, and put in a lot of time over the summer. Kind of had to control what I can do, which was rehabbing every day. I got back in November and was just glad to be back.

What were some of the things you focused on working on over the summer, outside of rehabbing the injury?

Ritchie: I was on the bike a lot this summer. That was the big thing, and I could only really do lower-body stuff. Lot of bike work. Not as much jumping until August, then I started doing a lot more plyometric stuff once I hit August. Lot of conditioning, lower body strengthening, some core work as well. I wasn’t able to skate, really. I started skating in August, so it was a different summer for me. Usually on the ice a lot. That was a different summer for me, but I think I made the most of it.

Everyone knows you played through the shoulder injury last year. How noticeable is the difference between how you felt physically last season and this season on the ice?

Ritchie: It’s just a lot stronger. Playing hockey and not having to be concerned about getting hit on your shoulder, and worry about dislocating it each game, it’s nice. To have that confidence really helps my game.

How serious of a concern was it last year that anytime you took a hit, it could have gotten worse?

Ritchie: I dislocated it like four times throughout the season last year. It was pretty loose. There was nothing really much to it after all the damage I kind of did to it. I kind of just had to avoid all that stuff. I’m just happy it’s back to good as new.

I talked to Avalanche forward Andrew Cogliano about how he got you in touch with some people to rehab the injury. How did that come to be?

Ritchie: He’s from the Toronto area, and he knows most people in the area. I’m from Oakville, and he actually knew Ian McIntyre, who’s really good with the therapy. He set me up with him, and he’s from Oakville, so that worked out well. I was going there, like, 2-3 times a week throughout the summer. Just really glad Cogliano reached out. Obviously, a great leader in that sense, and really helped my shoulder, so I’m thankful for that.

How much communication do you have with people in the Avalanche organization during the season?

Ritchie: I work with the trainers there, and they’re still in touch with me about the strengthening program and all of that. Player development, I work with Brian Willsie a lot, so I’m in touch with him weekly throughout the season. Just always looking for ways to get better and improve my game. That’s obviously the main goal, to try and get better every day.

What are some of the things you feel like you’ve really improved on this year compared to last year?

Ritchie: Honestly, I just try to work on all aspects of my game. Every bit of my game has gotten slightly better, and I just want to continue on that path. You have to do everything so good to play in the NHL, so just have to continue to round out my game.

I had read that you started taking your diet very seriously, and Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon was an inspiration in that, as far as checking your blood work. When you were at Avalanche training camp, were you able to pick his brain a bit more on what he does and what more you can include in your habits?

Ritchie: Not too much, but I’ve heard a lot about his dedication and all that. Everyone in the organization talks about how good of a work ethic he has and his daily routine, so you kind of try to take those things and implement it. I see how he rides the bike 25 minutes after every game, and I’m trying to do that. It really helps. All those little things that you can do to try to improve your game kind of give you that little edge.

What made you want to take your diet a little more seriously?

Ritchie: You see a lot of the top NHL guys…I mean, everyone in the NHL takes their diet seriously. I think it was back during COVID when I started to take it more serious, take it to the level of getting blood tested, working with a nutritionist. I saw Nathan MacKinnon was doing that. I noticed a huge difference as soon as I started to take that more seriously, and I think I grew my game a lot because of that.

What was your first experience at Avalanche/NHL training camp like?

Ritchie: It was unbelievable. Obviously, not being able to compete in the exhibition tournament and those practices, but it was still great to be around the organization and be able to learn from all the staff there. Being around all the NHL guys was a great experience for myself and to be on the ice with those guys during skill skates and in the gym, I thought I developed a lot. I was there for around a month, and think I got a lot stronger, in a lot better shape, and the skill skates helped me too. It was a great experience overall.

You went to the Team Canada meetings over the summer for the 2023 World Junior Team. How did you handle not making the squad this year? Do you use that as motivation moving forward?

Ritchie: For sure. I really would have loved to play for Canada, but I have to do what I can control and better myself so it’s not really a decision next time. I think I use it as motivation and try to push myself to be better.

Are there certain players you try to model your game after?

Ritchie: There’s a lot of guys. Watching Nathan MacKinnon, just the amount of time and space he gives himself just by using his speed. Just a great player, does everything so well. Try to watch a lot of him, but kind of hard to do everything the way he does, honestly. Try to take a bit of that from him. I really liked Patrice Bergeron growing up. He was just a really good 2-way guy. I think that’s how I’ve always tried to play growing up. Just a good 2-way game and be trusted by my coaches.

Do you set personal goals heading into a season?

Ritchie: Not too much. My main personal goal is to just try to get better every single day. Other than that, it’s just about winning and doing whatever I can to try and help the team win.

You’re having a dominant season in the OHL. Do you think about how close you might be to taking that next step and playing in the NHL?

Ritchie: Honestly, my thought process is control what I can control. Just try to get myself to a point where I’m developing every day. Whenever that time comes, I’d love to be there. I just need to improve all aspects of my game. To be in the NHL you have to be good at everything.

You were a high draft pick in the OHL, played through injury, had the shoulder surgery, and are now back dominating. Is there anything you’ve learned about yourself in these last few years that maybe you didn’t know? Not just as a player, but as a person? 

Ritchie: Growing up, I think I had a lot of success. Hadn’t had to face too much adversity, really. And then I think over the last couple of years with the surgery and playing through that, and going through the draft, that’s some adversity I had to face. Kind of really taught myself about how mentally tough you have to be to go through those things to play hockey at a high level. I think that’s a really good experience for myself to go through that adversity and kind of bettered myself through it.

Do you get a chance to keep up with the Avalanche when you’re busy with your own season?

Ritchie: I try to keep up with it as much as I can. Being different time zones, it’s kind of hard to watch sometimes, especially when you’re playing, but try to keep up with them.

Oshawa has really come on since you returned. What clicked, and what’s the feeling heading into the stretch run?

Ritchie: I think we have a lot of confidence in our group. When we’re playing at the top of our game, when we’re playing the way the coaches want us to play, I think we’re the best team. We’ve had our struggles this year, some ups and downs, but when we’re on top of our game, when we’re all buying in, we’re right up there with all the best teams in the league and I’m really excited for this playoff run.

How tough was it to have to watch and not be able to play at the start of the year?

Ritchie: It was really tough. Missed the first 17 games, and it sucks not being able to be a part of the wins and the losses with the guys. Sitting upstairs, and not being able to have any control of the outcome, or be able to be a part of it with the team is tough, but took that time to try and get better and put myself in a position where I could help the team when I returned. Just really glad to be back.

Is there anything you pick up being up high that you wouldn’t be able to pick up during the game?

Ritchie: Watching hockey is always good to understand the game better. Watching all those games up top, I was able to understand just more about the way I needed to play. The more hockey you watch, the more you learn. I think it was also good for me to be able to watch those games.

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