If JC Lipon keeps scoring at this pace, ambitious hockey parents might start thinking about taking their kids to the lake instead of the rink in the summer.
The Kamloops Blazers right wing, who's gone from list player to leading scorer in the entire Canadian Hockey League, was probably better known for his backstory before breaking out last season. Along with being tied with Portland Winterhawks star Ty Rattie for the WHL's shortest first name, 'Just JC' also spent his adolescence competing across Canada and the U.S. in wakeboarding. So when Lipon, once deemed too small for the Dub, is working the cycle down low to create chances for himself, centre Colin Smith and left wing Tim Bozon, it's a product of summers spent essentially living out at Echo Lake near his hometown of Regina, where he built his strength by standing up on his board while being towed behind a boat.
"The two sports mesh more than anyone would think," says the 19-year-old Lipon, whose 27 points in 11 games are tops in the WHL, followed by Smith's 23. "You don't really use those [core] muscles all the time and it's really good for your balance because you're executing tricks, the type I do is all freestyle and you use the wake of the boat as a ramp to do flips and spins and different variations. I've always had a good centre of gravity and obviously it adds some extra strength for your arms."
There's nothing too tricky about what the so-called Call Upon Line — as in Col-in Smith, JC Lip-on and Tim Boz-on — is providing for the 10-0-0-1 Blazers. Kamloops put them together early last season. The 6-foot, 181-pound Lipon fit in well with Smith's made-in-Alberta tenacity and Bozon's Gallic flair, putting up 65 points after posting just 21 as a 17-year-old. What's happened so far this fall — it's early, mind you — has taken it to another level.
"There was a chemistry there right from the get-go," Blazers coach Guy Charron says. "At one point we thought, maybe there was a little bit of dissension or they were kind of bickering at each other, so we kind of separated them but it didn't last more than one game. The chemistry was so good that once they were apart, it brought to their attention the fact that they could be separated. When we put them together, it refocused them.
"They all skate well, they all have good vision, they all have big shots," Charron says. "Another part of what makes them hard to defend is they don't shy away, JC is one who can handle himself. He's been in fights before. Colin is determined to be a hockey player and Tim Bozon [a Montreal Canadiens third-rounder] has made a great adjustment from the European style to the Western Hockey League."
'Just didn't develop at a young age'
The NHL lockout sank Lipon's training-camp invite from the Colorado Avalanche, who drafted his linemate Smith in the seventh round of last summer's NHL draft. Some players might have been disappointed by that twist of fate, started daydreaming about what it would have been like to savour The Show for a week or two before going back to the WHL's long bus rides. Instead, Lipon seems grounded into the moment. The fact that he didn't produce much in his first two WHL seasons is ancient history.
"That was a different situation. "I didn't produce as much as I needed to, but it's happening now. Guys are late bloomers, maybe I just didn't develop at a young age.
"I like to think I've earned the opportunities," he adds. "I wasn't drafted into the WHL so I had to make it as a list player. When you're 16, you don't play much and you have to accept that and work hard every day. Then when you're 17, you think you're going to have a big role. I did, but not quite as big as I wanted to, which was kind of disappointing. Then I got the opportunity last year and have been rolling with it."
Charron marvels at how Lipon has progressed across the past three-plus seasons in Kamloops.
"When you're 16 or 17, you may have an image of what you think you are as a player, but sometimes you need direction," he says. "I know as a 16-year-old, JC thought he was what he is now, but he wasn't ready for that. He was the type of player who would sometimes play fourth line, or third line, some games he would be very good. In the last couple years, he's really matured and determined what kind of player he needs to be. Now he's getting the dividends of his commitment."
The Blazers got out of the first round last season for the first time since 1999 and fell one win shy of completing a comeback from a 3-0 series deficit vs. Portland in Round 2. Being first overall in the WHL is on another level. Teenagers being who they are, the Blazers have had fun with it, with #Liptober becoming a popular hashtag. Someone ought to have a contest to suggest what the initials JC — Lipon's parents, Jason and Shelley, came up with that — could represent.
Wednesday, he was Just Clutch, scoring a game-tying shortie in an eventual shootout win over defending champion Edmonton. That was a nice #Liptober moment, but it's over now.
"I follow Twitter a little bit, but mostly my friends have just said, 'have you seen this?' and they started making up other names that started with 'Lip,' " Lipon says. "We had some fun on the bus with that after the game.
"That's not a distraction. I know you have to start at zero at every night."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
- Sports & Recreation
- Ice Hockey