By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
Ryan Gropp returned from a two-day visit to Grand Forks, N.D., on Tuesday night.
By Thursday afternoon, the Kamloops native had made his decision.
Gropp, who turns 17 on Sept. 16, announced via Twitter that he has committed to attend the U of North Dakota.
The 6-foot-1, 165-pound Gropp will play a second season with the BCHL’s Penticton Vees — he had 29 points in 50 games as a freshman last season — and then will join UND in the fall of 2014.
Also yesterday, Gropp was one of 42 players invited by Hockey Canada to attend its under-18 national team camp later this month in Toronto.
“It’s been a pretty exciting time,” Gropp said. “I’m just soaking it all up.”
He actually got the U18 invitation on Wednesday, via a phone call from head coach Dale Hunter of the OHL’s London Knights. Gropp, who was selected sixth overall by the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL’s 2011 bantam draft, is one of three non-CHL players on the camp roster.
“I was pretty excited,” he said of hearing from Hunter. “We were still talking about the North Dakota visit and assessing things with my parents. We made that decision today.”
Gropp, who visited Colorado College — his father, Brent, attended CC and played four seasons with the Tigers — and the University of Denver in March, said the facilities at UND blew him away.
“We toured the rink and some of the academic buildings,” he said. “They showed us everything there is down there. It was a pretty cool experience.
“The rink and the facilities they have there . . . it’s pretty incredible. They give you all the resources to be successful; it’s just a matter of you using them and taking the time to put in the work.”
Gropp also met head coach Dave Hakstol and assistants Brad Berry and Dane Jackson.
“The coaching staff was really good,” Gropp said. “I felt really comfortable with all three of them.”
Gropp maintained that the WHL always was an option.
“As a family,” he said, referring to his mom, Colleen, and dad, “we looked at both ways pretty equally. I think this is the best for me.”
With that decision behind him, Gropp now can focus entirely on getting ready for the U18 camp.
“It’s a cool experience,” he said. “I’m just hoping I can go there well-prepred, have a good camp and try to make the team.”
He was excited, too, because his boyhood friend, Joe Hicketts, a defenceman with the Victoria Royals, also was invited.
“We always seem to get to these things together,” Gropp said. “I’m looking forward to doing this with him.”
The two were teammates on the Canadian team at the Youth Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, early in 2012, then played together on Team Pacific at the 2013 U17 World Hockey Challenge in Drummondville and Victoriaville, Que.
Defenceman Jordan Thomson, who is preparing for his sophomore season with the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, also will be in the U18 camp that runs from July 25-29.
After the camp, 22 players will be selected to play for Canada at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament in Piestany, Slovakia and Breclav, Czech Republic, Aug. 5-10. Canada has won the tournament each of the past five years.
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