FOR JC Lipon, the real surprise came in Newark, N.J., on that final day of June, when the NHL Draft marched to the final pick of the third round.
The 20-year-old forward wasn't expecting to hear his name so soon, not after 30 NHL teams passed him over the first two years he was eligible for the draft. But when Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff called the pick, No. 91, Lipon knew it meant a shot at a major-league deal. No reason to pluck a WHL overager that high if a team wasn't sure they wanted him signed.
"Once they did take me, I connected the dots a little bit," Lipon said over the phone from Kamloops, where he played in the WHL. "It was nice. I got ready for development camp, and did pretty well there and just got settled in, and until (now) I've just been training."
Now it's official. The right-handed winger inked an entry-level deal with the Jets Thursday, a standard three-year term that will pay him $700,000 a season if he makes it to the NHL. That said, he'll almost certainly start his pro career with the St. John's IceCaps, and while he's hungry to make it to the show, he's also ready to get to work.
First up: Lipon will head to the Young Stars tournament in Penticton, B.C., next week, where he'll get to strut his stuff alongside the Jets' other prospects. Then he'll come back to Winnipeg for training camp, and see how long he can stick. "My plan is just to take it all in, but I realize the task at hand," Lipon said.
He already knows what it's like to battle against the best. On the strength of an eye-opening 2012-13 season with the Kamloops Blazers, one that eventually saw him rack up 36 goals an 53 assists in 61 regular-season games and another 23 points in 15 playoff tilts, the Regina kid earned an invite to selection camp for Canada's 2013 world junior team.
He was an underdog from the start, especially with the NHL lockout allowing a pile of star 19-year-olds to make the squad. Almost half the guys on that team were first-round draft picks already. But even in that elite milieu, Lipon fought so hard at selection camp Team Canada coaches couldn't help but keep him on.
So really, a full NHL training camp won't be a total shock.
"I have an idea," Lipon said. "Going through the whole world junior process with cuts, that was a pretty competitive thing for me. It's kind of a gauge almost, so it should be similar to that. Everything's just quicker and faster and I will kind of have to adapt."
One thing he won't have to adapt to is Winnipeg itself. Growing up in Regina, Lipon visited often for hockey games and to see his cousins, from Winnipeg's own hockey-boosting Davison family. His cousin Todd Davison was a gifted young hockey player who died of a rare form of sarcoma when he was only 20 years old -- but not before he launched a foundation to help youth living with cancer.
So yeah, he knows Winnipeg. And he's ready to be here again.
"The fans are unbelievable," he said. "Just for development camp practices it's sold out at practice rinks, and people wanting your autograph... I'm just excited to get it going and kinda see where it can go."