Wednesday April 23, 2014






Welcome to the WHL, lil bro

Brotherly love on ice with Blazers
Hugo Yuen

Forward Mitch Lipon of the Kamloops Blazers applies freezing gel to his upper front teeth after chipping two of them when hit by his brother, JC, during a morning scrimmage at Interior Savings Centre.

JC Lipon was chuckling.

His younger brother, Mitch, was grimacing.

Their mother, Shelley, was, well, she was being a mother.

During a Sunday morning scrimmage at the Kamloops Blazers' training camp at Interior Savings Centre, JC caught Mitch with a shoulder check in open ice.

"He got me with a shoulder and my teeth went into my visor," offered Mitch, 17, showing the damage to his two upper front teeth, both of which were chipped, then adding that he was going to have to call home.

"I hit him in middle ice," said JC, 20, with a laugh, while nodding in the direction of Mitch.

"I suppose (JC) is just trying to toughen up his little brother," Shelley wrote in a text from Regina. "I have just come to the conclusion that it's part of hockey.

"But it is tough on a mom!"

While JC has spent four seasons with the Blazers, Mitch, who played last season with the midget AAA Regina Pat Canadians, is hoping for a spot here this season. He put up 51 points, 20 of them goals, in 44 games with Regina last season, and also got a late-season taste of life with the Blazers, getting limited playing time and going pointless in three regular-season and five playoff games.

Having been here last spring has made this camp a bit easier for him.

"It's a lot easier to come in here knowing all the guys, having been here before and knowing how things work," Mitch said. "You're still a rookie but you know what to do and are expected to know what to do."

Mitch also has gotten more help than a shoulder to the face from his older brother.

"He helps me out a lot," Mitch said. "He gives me that extra push. He's in my face quite a bit but it's all good.

"He said I have the skill, I just have to put in the work ethic to get where I want to be and get a spot on the team. I want to make the team and find a spot where I can contribute."

JC, meanwhile, is hoping to play this season for the St. John's IceCaps, the Newfoundland-based AHL affiliate of the NHL's Winnipeg Jets. They selected Lipon in the third round of the 2013 NHL draft.

That put a cap on a season during which Lipon really came of age, at one point leading the WHL in scoring and then earning a spot on the Canadian team that played at the world junior championship in Ufa, Russia.

"Obviously a lot of good things happened last winter," Lipon said. "I made some big strides. But it's like you're in the doghouse again . . . you get drafted and start from the bottom again. It's another challenge in life and I'm looking forward to it."

Shortly after the draft, Lipon attended a Jets' prospects camp that, he said, only served to help his confidence.

Asked how he stacked up there, he replied: "Good, really good."

He admitted to having been intimidated a bit in fitness testing "with the college guys."

"But," he added, "then you get on the ice and you know why you're there. I did really well in all the practices and in the game, too. I'm pretty happy with the way things are."

Lipon, who has yet to sign an NHL contract, will head for Winnipeg on Sept. 4 and then play for the Jets team at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton, Sept. 5-9.

"Obviously, I want to make the big team," he said. But, being realistic, "definitely St. John's is where I want to be."

And if he ends up back in Kamloops?

"It is what it is," he said. "There's good coaching staff here. We're young but just from being here it's an awesome coaching staff. They've kind of developed that over the last few seasons and it's a good organization to be in."

Of course, if Lipon should wind up back here, he could get to play with Mitch, something he said is "pretty exciting."

"He worked really hard this summer," Mitch said. "I told him, 'it's your position to lose and he's got to work hard.' "

Yes, even if it means taking a shoulder to the mouth from big brother.

So . . . when is payback?

"I don't know," Mitch said. "I guess we'll see."

JUST NOTES: Of the 57 players left in the Blazers' camp, 32 were born in 1997 or '98. The 14 players born in 1998 aren't eligible for WHL rosters this season. . . . Veteran F Chase Souto, who turns 19 on Oct. 8, is the lone American in camp. . . . Sophomore D Jordan Thomson remains day-to-day with a cut to one foot. Thomson, who was injured while vacationing with his family, skated Sunday. . . . F Tim Bozon, 19, will leave Sept. 4 for Montreal and the Canadiens' training camp, while F Colin Smith, 20, leaves Friday to join the Colorado Avalanche. Both have signed NHL deals.

gdrinnan@kamloopsnews.ca

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