Against all odds

Brendan McCarthy
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JC Lipon’s perseverance pays off with start of professional hockey career

Hockey players often can be role models. Most times, it’s for what they do. But in some cases, it can be for what they don’t do.
An example of the latter might be St. John’s IceCaps rookie forward JC Lipon, who has been often ignored, bypassed and overlooked in his hockey career, but didn’t despair.

When the Winnipeg Jets picked JC Lipon in the third round of this past June’s NHL draft, it was the first time in the Regina native’s hockey career that he had been drafted. He was overlooked in his first year of eligibility for the WHL bantam draft and didn’t hear his name called the first two times he was eligible for the NHL’s draft. After an unexpected appearance with the national junior team and a strong overage year with the Kamloops Blazers last year, Lipon’s draft stock increased. Now he’s embarking on his pro career with the St. John’s IceCaps.

He kept his chin up, his head down and a belief in himself.

Lipon was a third-round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets this past June, so it’s obvious he hasn’t come this far totally unnoticed. But it’s worth pointing out it was the first time in his career that the 20-year-old from Regina had been drafted.

He went unselected in the WHL’s bantam draft and didn’t have his name called the first two times he was eligible for the National Hockey League’s Entry Draft.

“I was small — really small — my bantam draft year,” explained Lipon (pronounce Lip-ahn, with equal emphasis on the syllables).

“I might have been about five-three, 105-pounds when I was 14.”

But as 15-year-old, in his first year of midget play with the Regina Pats/Canadians, he went though a bit of a growth spot and despite modest numbers — four goals and nine assists in 43 games, earned an invitation to the camp of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers.

“I got lucky,” said Lipon, who successfully made the Blazers as a 16-year-old walk-on, a fairly rare accomplishment in the WHL.

“There were some injuries and I got the chance to prove myself. It worked out.”

In Kamloops, he went through a cycle, starting as a rookie trying to earn ice time and then as sophomore expecting he might find some first- or second-line work. Instead, he was thrust into a new role with the Blazers.

“My second year, I thought it would be easier, but I ended up being a third- fourth-line fighter,” said Lipon.

“It was different, but I’m glad I have that element in that game if I need to do it. However, the next year, my third year, I decided I could have some offensive spark and I got a chance and kind of went with it.”

Sometimes, he went too fast.

“My coach (Guy Charron) said I needed to start thinking out the game better as opposed to going 100 miles an hour all the time, sometimes without a good idea of what I was doing,” said Lipon.

“Once I slowed things down and thought the game out, it got better.”

Lipon wound up with 65 points and 11 fights that year.

“I thought with those numbers, I might squeeze into the late rounds (of the 2012 NHL draft),” he said.

He didn’t and with the draft finished, prepared to go wakeboarding at the lake where the family cottage is located.

But the phone started ringing. NHL teams like the San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars were interested in having him come their camps.

“It actually was probably better, because I got to choose where I would go,” said Lipon.

But then the NHL lockout happened and the camp invitations meant nothing because there were no camps.

No sulking by Lipon, though. He had a great start to his fourth year in Kamloops, so great that he received an invitation to the selection camp for the 2013 Canadian world junior team. This even though he hadn’t been to the national team’s summer identification camp.

The phone call informing him he would be going to the national team camp came while the Blazers were on a road trip and he was on the team bus.

“It was strange, because I was so excited, but I had been told I couldn’t tell anyone on my team. That sucked because one of my linemates — Colin Smith,  who really helped me get there — didn’t get invited.”

Lipon had to settle for a couple of secret fist pumps and a text letting his mother know what happened.

He made the junior team  — “I knew I wasn’t going to be a top six with that group, but I was determined to find a way to fit in,” — as a defensive forward.

He appeared in five games in the tourney, with no points and 27 penalty minutes. Canada, which went undefeated in the preliminary round at the tournament in Ufa, Russia, lost in the semifinals to the U.S., and then in the bronze-medal game to host Russia, the latter contest going to overtime.

Lipon returned to Kamloops, finishing the season with 36 goals, 89 points, 105 PIMs and a plus-34 rating. In 15 playoff games with the Blazers, he added 23 points.

Even though he was about to turn 20, the word was that the right-shooting Lipon, now five-11 and 180 pounds, was going to finally be drafted when the NHL gathered in New Jersey for its annual selection process. The Chicago Blackhawks were said to have traded up to the fourth round in order to take him, but the Jets snatched him late in the third round.

Lipon had decided against attending the draft in early July and instead opted to spend the day at the lake, his favourite place. He was joined by about 50 people — family and friends — but while there was plenty of imbibing, Lipon was only drinking in the moment

I just kept pacing around because I thought I might have to do interviews,” he said. “When it finally happened, it was so exciting, but also such a relief.

“It was one of the best days of my life. I hope I can have a few more like it.”

bmcc@thetelegram.com

What does JC stand for?

“Nothing. It’s my real name. My legal name,” said St. John’s IceCaps rookie JC Lipon.

“Where does it come from? I asked my parents and they just said they wanted something different, plus my father’s name is Jason. I guess that has something to do with it.”

He doesn’t mind that many people assume it’s an initialized first name or that others feel compelled to add periods that aren’t required.

“At school, I’d get asked about it a lot by teachers, but that was about it,” said Lipon. “People do all sorts of things with it. If they do get it right, I see it as a bonus.”

It’s not a big deal on the IceCaps, either.

“Around here, I’m just Lips or Lipper,” he said.

Organizations: National Hockey League, Winnipeg Jets, San Jose Sharks Dallas Stars IceCaps Chicago Blackhawks

Geographic location: Kamloops, Russia, Canada Ufa U.S. New Jersey

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  • Susan Cuthbert
    October 29, 2013 - 09:17

    What a wonderful article about JC. He is such a terrific young man, and he is loved, admired and missed in Kamloops by Blazers fans of all ages. I'm so happy he was drafted by Winnipeg. They're a great fit for him. The last time I spoke to Jace, I told him I couldn't decide if I'd be happiest if he came back to us or moved up. But, seeing the way he worked with the Jets, and how he's fitting in with the IceCaps, I'll have to say that Paul and I are both very happy he's happy. But that doesn't mean we don't miss him. "Work your butt off, Jace! We're cheering for you!" ....... Susan and Paul Cuthbert.