J.C. Lipon celebrated his 21st birthday Thursday with a workout that almost caused his gastrointestinal tract to revolt.
That wasn’t quite how he phrased it, but Lipon spoke with a gap-toothed grin because he’s almost exactly where he wants to be — at a Winnipeg Jets development camp.
Exactly, of course, would be in a Winnipeg Jets uniform, getting ready to play his first season in the NHL.
It takes some getting used to but he’s now a pro and doesn’t even have to skate with the junior players who have found a spot within the Jets extended family, or are at least promising enough to warrant a look at this camp.
“I brought my equipment and they were like, ‘Why did you bring your equipment?’,” said Lipon.
Not that he’s idle this week.
He spent last season with the Jets’ AHL farm team in St. John’s with two other players at this year’s camp, Adam Lowry and Austen Brassard, and the Jets are putting them through their own special workouts.
Last season was an exciting one for the Prairie boy from Regina, who says it was a major change to move away from home, live as an “adult” and go from farm country to fishing country.
“Hockey-wise it was awesome, you can’t ask for much more, except a Calder Cup I guess,” he said.
The IceCaps late-season burst and Calder Cup final run ended in a game-five loss to the Texas Stars, but it was still an exciting time to be part of the team.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” agrees Lowry, who saw action in 17 playoff games and had two goals and three assists.
“To come up a little bit short, it was definitely almost heartbreaking.”
Lowry and Lipon are now among the old boys of this camp, ready to offer what help they can to make the rookies feel comfortable.
“I think it’s important to provide that leadership aspect to the younger guys,” says Lowry.
“I remember being in that position in my first development camp. You’re a little timid. You don’t want to do anything or say anything that’s going to make you stand out from the group.”
The six-foot-five centre from Calgary had a pretty good sophomore season in St. John’s before the playoffs (he played nine games in 2012-13) with 17 goals and 16 assists.
And while he says everyone would love to jump straight to the NHL if possible, there are advantages to some time in the AHL where the speed and intensity of play is more like the NHL than junior.
“It still catches you off guard a little bit. It is the strength the size and the speed, they all step up a little,” he says.
“Everyone’s faster, everyone’s stronger. Everyone passes really hard,” says Lipon, a six-footer who plays right wing and also had a solid rookie season with the IceCaps at nine goals and 32 assists.
“I felt pretty good about how it went. I kind of exceeded my expectations.”
The AHL gives young players a little more room to make the transition to being a professional hockey player who can’t have that many off nights, agrees Lowry.
“I think that’s the biggest change, going from junior to pro, trying to find the consistency that can make you a good player every night.”
Still, a young guy can only hope.
“I still think there’s a lot to learn but with there being open spots on Winnipeg right now, it just kind of makes it that much closer, and it could be a reality soon, if you work hard,” says Lipon.