Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Undrafted, but not unsung

Regina's JC Lipon cracks a team jam-packed with future NHL stars

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UFA, Russia -- JC Lipon forced his way on to a Canadian team at the world junior hockey championship stocked with first-round NHL draft picks.

The unheralded 19-year-old winger from Regina was passed over in the last two NHL drafts, yet here he is, rubbing shoulders with elite prospects.

What's more, Lipon made Canada's team in a year where the NHL lockout made all of the country's best 19-year-olds were available.

"It's the biggest thing that's ever happened to me," Lipon said. "With the lockout, it definitely was pretty crazy to squeak in there and steal a spot.

"I'm excited because this was the last year I was eligible. I get a chance to play in a tournament that lots of people dream to."

Lipon made that dream a reality when Canada opened Pool B play today against Germany at the Ufa Arena.

It's unusual, but not unheard-of, for a player on Canada's junior team to never get drafted by an NHL team. Wayne Gretzky (1978) is among the group, although he was drafted by the World Hockey Association's Indianapolis Racers.

Others includes Pierre Rioux (1982), Bob Bassen (1985), Al Conroy (1986), Mike Keane (1987), Andy Schneider (1992), Olivier Michaud (2002), Josh Gorges (2004) and Martin Jones (2010). Some signed with NHL teams as free agents and went on to have long careers.

This year's Canadian team boasts 10 first-round draft picks, including Edmonton Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins -- the No. 1 selection in 2011.

There were no undrafted 19-year-olds on the 1995 or 2005 Canadian teams, squads that were also bolstered by NHL lockouts.

Lipon (pronounced LIP-ahn) is in his fourth season with the Kamloops Blazers. "JC" is his name and not a shortened version of a hyphenated first name.

The 5-11, 180-pound winger is OK with the label of "late bloomer" because that's what he's done.

"I guess I struggled my first two years, but kind of was just finding my place," he said. "Some guys do develop a little bit later and that's just what I did and the route I'm taking.

"Last year I had a good year and developed some chemistry with two linemates -- Colin Smith and Tim Bozon -- in Kamloops and I play with them this year too," Lipon added. "It's been really fun to play with them."

Those three Blazers have a combined 66 goals so far this season. Lipon was leading the Western Hockey League in scoring 22 goals and 35 assists in 34 games when he arrived at Canada's selection camp.

He's missed four WHL games since joining the Canadian team and was overtaken by Smith in the scoring race.

But Lipon made the Canadian team because of his versatility and the skills to fill almost any role.

"You've got to give it to the kid. He came in here as a long shot to make the team," Hockey Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast said. "Here's a kid that last year was a bit of a banger and get-in-your-face type of player. Now he's added offence to his game.

"Between that offence and that grit, we think he's a player who can play on our first line or play on our fourth line."

Lipon spends his summers at Katepwa Lake in Saskatchewan's Qu'appelle Valley and excels at wakeboarding.

He's competed in the Canadian wakeboarding championships three times and also in the 2007 world championship in Reno, Nevada. Lipon stopped competing in that sport at age 16 to focus on hockey. He still wakeboards for fun ... and other reasons.

"Just for girls mostly," he said.

Does it work?

"Sometimes."

Lipon wasn't drafted by a WHL team either, but was listed by the Blazers. He was confident and athletic because of his wakeboarding success.

But Blazers coach Guy Charron remembers a tearful 16-year-old Lipon during some of their coach-player discussions. Like many players that age, Lipon expected to be a great goalscorer in the league because of his natural talent.

"What he was thinking would help him be the player he wanted to be, I contradicted him to some extent," Charron recalled recently. "I made him accountable to the other aspects of his game."

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 26, 2012 C3

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