Shoot­ing for an­other shot

Lipon, 25, isn’t giv­ing up on big-league dream

Winnipeg Free Press - - SPORTS I HOCKEY - JA­SON BELL ja­son.bell@freep­ Twit­ter: @WFPJa­sonBell

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.”

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