Shooting for another shot
Lipon, 25, isn’t giving up on big-league dream
HE bittersweet taste of JC Lipon’s brief time in the NHL still lingers — even 2½ years removed from his last regular-season appearance with the Winnipeg Jets.
Lipon, in the early stages of his sixth season in the organization, skated in his 334th American Hockey League game Friday night as the Manitoba Moose hosted the Belleville Senators. He’s once again wearing an ‘A’ on his jersey as part of the Moose leadership group.
But memories of a nine-game stint with the big club in early 2016 remain fresh in his mind, including both his only NHL point and fighting major.
Playing on the fourth line with Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp, Lipon did what he does best, winning a puck battle to orchestrate an offensive chance during a victory on home ice.
“It was this corner right here,” recalled Lipon, 25, pointing to a routinely high-traffic area of the ice at Bell MTS Place. “I think I just grabbed the puck and passed it to the point, (Ben Chiarot) shot it and (Copp) tipped it in. It’s pretty funny to think about.”
The night in question was Saturday, March 3, 2016 — a Saturday evening affair against the Montreal Canadiens. It occurred during his second NHL recall (he had played two games that January but was returned to the Moose and then received a promotion in early March).
Eleven nights after his assist in a 4-2 triumph for Winnipeg, Lipon got into a first-period tussle in Calgary with then-Flames forward Micheal
TFerland, a Swan River product who now plays for the Carolina Hurricanes. He came through it unscathed but was later hurt on a fairly innocent-looking check that ended his season.
“Unfortunately, there were guys injured with the Jets and I got called up and was able to basically be on the team, not just for one game. It was a great experience (being in the NHL). I got injured or it could have been even more than nine games, maybe even
20,” said Lipon. “I hurt my shoulder in Calgary and I ended up staying up the rest of the year. It would have been nice to be in the lineup and get more games under your belt, but things happen and you can’t control it.”
Lipon, by all accounts, had another strong 2018 NHL training camp — his sixth — in September but no longer falls under the category of Jets prospect. There was a time, as recently as the 2015-16 season, when he was considered an outside candidate to replace Chris Thorburn as the team’s resident tough guy, despite being slightly undersized for the role at 6-0,
185 pounds. But another winger who refuses to back down from a challenge, Brendan Lemieux, has jumped ahead of him on the depth chart.
Yet, the dream of NHL employment still remains strong for the former Kamloops Blazers power forward, who inked a one-year deal with the Jets in August.
“I believe I can play there. I have played there before. Every year, I think I’m still getting better and I’m going to keep doing the right things. Sometimes, it’s a matter or being at the right place at the right time, too, so just keep working hard down here and, hopefully, things happen,” Lipon said. “But it’s definitely a younger league now, so you have to work that much harder to stick around. There’s things in this game you can’t control, but your work ethic is what you can control.”
Lipon is expected to be a major contributor — for his gritty, sandpaper style of play and offensive smarts — on a Manitoba squad that’s undergone significant alterations to its core since a terrific 2017-18 campaign concluded in May.
That sits comfortably with the Regina product, who has performed admirably with the Jets’ AHL affiliate since he earned a job with the St. John’s IceCaps four months after being selected by Winnipeg in the third round (91st overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft.
Indeed, he continues to carve out a solid pro career as an energy forward who, prior to tonight’s home opener at Bell MTS Place, had pumped in
56 goals and added 111 assists in the AHL, while answering the bell on
48 scraps. He had a career-high 17 goals, including two hat tricks, while helping set up 21 others last season.
“I’ve been fortunate to stick with the same organization. It’s close to home and I’ve enjoyed playing in a hockey environment where you play in front of great fans and you’re motivated every day,” said Lipon, who becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer. “I love it more and more each year. You’re playing hockey for a living, so you have to embrace that.”
Moose head coach Pascal Vincent said Lipon never ceases to impress both he and others within True North’s hockey operations.
On Thursday, Vincent and his coaching staff named defenceman Peter Stoyekwych as the eighth captain in franchise history, while Lipon and defenceman Cameron Schilling will serve as alternates.
“You respect and appreciate a player whose bread and butter is hard work. (Lipon) is good on the forecheck and brings energy to the team,” Vincent said. “He has that status with us as a veteran and he’s definitely a huge part of our leadership group.”
He said Lipon’s hungers for another opportunity to play in the NHL makes him a more productive pro.
“I think he still has the aspiration of playing in the NHL, and he should because I think that’s where he should be. I don’t think you can be content to stay in the American Hockey League. Knowing his game, he probably had — since I’ve been here he’s had some pretty good training camps — but I think this was his best camp I’ve seen him play,” said Vincent.
“Who knows what’s going happen? One or two injuries (with the Jets) and they’re looking for a player like, who knows once you get a chance. And your chance doesn’t have to come at 21 years old or 22 years old. Maybe it’s later in your career.
“So, I don’t think you should be in that position where you are just happy to be an American Hockey League player.”