Lipon in, Smith out of Team Canada running
The dream of one young Kamloops Blazer was dashed, while another’s inched closer to reality when the list of players invited to the national junior hockey team’s selection camp was released this week.
JC Lipon got the nod from Hockey Canada, while linemate Colin Smith will not attend the camp used to determine who will represent Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship, to be held in Ufa, Russia, from Dec. 26 to Jan. 4.
“At the time, it’s pretty devastating,” said Smith, the Edmonton product who is one point back of Lipon for the Western Hockey League lead in points, with 56.
“When you’ve set a goal for yourself for quite some time and then you work toward it and come up a little short . . . it’s disappointing.”
Lipon received a call late Sunday night (Dec. 2), just after the Blazers fell 3-1 to Seattle in Kent., Wash.
“I was kind of down and in a [bad] spot and it was nice to get the call and hear the good news,” said Lipon, who, with 22 goals, is tied with Smith and Todd Fiddler of Spokane for the league lead.
“I had to keep it under wraps until the next morning. You kind of want everybody to know that you did get invited. I texted my mom.”
The news is now out and Lipon has been fielding congratulatory texts and phone calls, some of them of the sarcastic variety from his friends in Regina, the Blazer forward’s hometown.
“I’m already getting bugged by my buddies . . . ‘Oh, world juniors, eh?’ Even if you do well, you get chirped.”
The time to feel good about being invited to camp is just about over, though, with Lipon shifting his focus to the next task at hand — making a team ladened with elite talent up front.
The selection camp runs from Dec. 11 to Dec. 13 in Calgary.
“If his mindset is to go in there and be a checker, he actually has a pretty good shot,” said Dave Hunchak, the Blazers’ associate coach.
“If he thinks he’s going to score goals and do what he does for us in Kamloops, he is not going to make that team. It’s plain and simple.”
As for Smith’s exclusion from selection camp, Hunchak was surprised the diminutive forward — clearly a fan favourite in the Tournament Capital — was not invited.
“It’s disappointing. Colin’s earned the opportunity to be a part of that training camp. Not to say that he would make the team, but I think an invite would have been fair, for what he’s accomplished,” Hunchak said.
“That being said, it’s a lockout year and there are a lot of guys that should be playing in the NHL right now and that’s probably what bumped him off the list.”
That depth — with NHL-ready players such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Mark Scheifele and Jonathan Huberdeau on the team — will make it tough for Lipon to crack the roster.
He plans on taking Hunchak’s advice to play gritty, disciplined hockey at camp, knowing he is likely aiming for a spot on the fourth line.
“They told me, don’t think you’re an underdog,” Lipon said.
“Just be reliable and play my game. Don’t change anything. Just come in and do your thing.”
The list of 37 players invited to camp includes 21 forwards, 12 defencemen and four goalies.
Huberdeau, Scheifele, Boone Jenner and Ryan Strome are the returning forwards who won bronze at last year’s world-junior tournament in Calgary.
Of the invited players, 31 have been drafted into the NHL during the past two years and 13 are first-round picks. Eight are second-round selections.
Lipon is alone on the list of previously draft-eligible players at selection camp without an NHL team.
Lipon will miss league games against Calgary on Dec. 11 and Edmonton on Dec. 12. If he does not make the Canadian team, he will rejoin Kamloops on its Alberta road trip for a Dec. 14 tilt in Lethbridge.
Should Lipon be named to Team Canada, he will not suit up for the Blue and Orange until Jan. 9, when Tri-City visits Interior Savings Centre.
Smith will be keeping an eye on his linemate, watching him take the journey toward his childhood dream.
“I’m happy for him and I wish him nothing but the best,” said Smith, whose Blazers are hosting Prince George at ISC on Friday, Dec 7.
“He deserves it. It would have been special to do it with him, but that’s not the case. It helps me try and be the player I can be and help my team do something special this year. We want to make this a year people will remember.”