Friday April 18, 2014






Drinnan: DePape made tough decision

It was early in the most-recent NHL season when the Winnipeg Free Press published a book titled Back in the Bigs - How Winnipeg Won, Lost and Regained Its Place in the NHL.

The title sums up the book rather neatly.

One of the book's early pages features a photo of a large gathering of fans at The Forks, an area near downtown Winnipeg that often is used for such celebrations as announcing the return of the NHL.

And there, right near the front of that particular photo, stands a young man wearing a cap and a jacket, and with a cell phone in one hand. The jacket has a small Kamloops Blazers logo on its front.

That young man is Jordan DePape. At the time, he was 19 years of age. A right-winger, he hadn't been selected in an NHL draft. And here he was, along with so many other fans, welcoming the Jets and the NHL back to his hometown.

Oh, he had a dream!

In time, the Jets would show some interest in DePape and he would play for their team of prospects at the 2011 Young Guns tournament in Penticton. On Sept. 14, 2011, an excited DePape put on a Jets uniform for the first time and played in a 2-0 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.

"Just looking down at the Winnipeg Jets logo and seeing the fans in the crowd with Jets jerseys, it was pretty surreal," DePape told Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun at the time.

Flash forward to Saturday night when DePape, dressed entirely in black, not unlike the late Johnny Cash, walked out of the Blazers' locker-room. DePape didn't say "I'm stuck in Folsom Prison."

No.

With a rueful smile and a chuckle, he said: "Yeah, I'm going to a funeral."

And, in a way, he was.

Do you know how hard it is for a 35- or 40- or 45- or 50-year-old man to admit that a dream is over? That it is dead? That there is no hope?

So how hard must it have been for a young man eight months past his 20th birthday to look in a mirror and tell himself that it's over?

Prior to a dustup with Emerson Etem of the Medicine Hat Tigers here on Oct. 10, 2011, when he dislocated his left shoulder, DePape had never had any shoulder problems. Now, just over a year later, both shoulders have quit on him.

The result is that DePape's dream died late last week and he told us about it on Saturday night.

At 20 years of age, his left shoulder having been surgically reconstructed a year ago and his recently injured right shoulder soon to feel the cut of a surgeon's scalpel, DePape made the right decision. His shoulders have told him that it's over. Showing maturity beyond his years, DePape has listened.

He has chosen to end his WHL career. The Blazers are 19-5-1 and on top of the WHL's overall standings, so try to imagine how hard it must be for him to walk away. Try to imagine how hard it must be to all but close the door on playing professional hockey, a dream that has lived through so many street hockey games, so many games of shinny and 157 WHL games. He was so close and yet, as it turned out, so far away.

DePape is mature enough to realize what is going on and to understand that he needs a Plan B.

If things work out the way DePape hopes, he will have surgery, attend the University of Manitoba and take criminology, and then go on to a career as a police officer.

If his health will allow it, he might even play hockey for the Bisons. Yes, there still is the hope of a pro career but he knows it is only a glimmer.

Diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic at the age of seven, DePape didn't let that stand in his way. He was the Manitoba Junior Hockey League's rookie of the year when, at the age of 16, he totalled 85 points, including 34 goals, in 55 games with the Winnipeg Saints. He was selected by the Brandon Wheat Kings in the third round of the 2007 WHL bantam draft. The Blazers acquired him early in the 2009-10 season in exchange for forward Shayne Wiebe.

On Saturday, hours before DePape informed his teammates of his decision and then chatted with the media, Wiebe signed a pro tryout agreement with the AHL's Connecticut Whale.

On Sunday, while Wiebe was preparing to practise, DePape and his father, Trevor, began the long drive back to Winnipeg, one chapter of the son's life in the rearview mirror, the next one on the other side of the windshield.

(Gregg Drinnan is sports editor of The Daily News. He is at gdrinnan@kamloopsnews.ca, gdrinnan.blogspot.com and twitter.com/gdrinnan.)


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