A pall hung over the Kamloops Blazers' dressing room at Interior Savings Centre on Saturday night, despite the fact the local WHL team had just posted a 5-4 shootout victory over those pesky Prince George Cougars.
Shortly after game's end, right-winger Jordan DePape, a member of the Blazers since Dec. 13, 2009, when he was acquired from the Brandon Wheat Kings, walked out of the room, having just informed his teammates that his WHL career was over.
DePape had reconstructive surgery on his left shoulder on Nov. 4, 2011, which limited him to 14 regular-season games in 2011-12. He came back to finish with 14 points in 14 games, then added 13 in 11 playoff games.
This season, he tweaked his right shoulder early and missed six games. Then, on Nov. 11, during a 3-1 loss to the Winterhawks in Portland, he stood up forward Ty Rattie in the neutral zone - it wasn't hard contact - and hurt the shoulder again. This time it was a subluxation - a temporary separation that could lead to more problems.
"It was a freak accident," the 20-year-old Winnipegger said. "I never had (shoulders) problems until last season and now this season."
DePape didn't think it was fair to himself or his teammates to be in and out of the lineup all season. So . . .
"An MRI showed there is work that needs to be done. . . . I think it's the best decision for me at this time," he said.
What made it that much tougher is that the Blazers (19-5-1) own the WHL's best record.
"I was so looking forward to this season," DePape said. "I knew we would have a really good team and we should probably go far in the playoffs and that was the way I wanted to go out.
"Unfortunately . . . I don't know what it is . . . the hockey gods just haven't been on my side. I haven't been able to catch a break."
Immediately after the game, which the Blazers won on right-winger JC Lipon's shootout goal, DePape informed his teammates of the decision.
"That was definitely the hardest part," said DePape, who took in the pregame warmup from the bench area because he knew it would be his last one. "The past couple of days I've known and the staff has known I was going to be getting the surgery. It was my choice not to let the guys know. I didn't want it to be a distraction because I knew these two games were huge to get back on track.
"After this game, it was emotional for me. I was tearing up; the guys were tearing up. They're family to me and I'm going to really miss them."
The feeling is mutual.
"We're friends. We're very close," said a teary-eyed Brendan Ranford, who now has lost both his linemates to injury. Dylan Willick is out, likely until after Christmas, with a broken ankle.
"This is really tough," Ranford continued. "He's such a great guy."
"It's a pretty sad thing," Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said, "when you have to face those kind of decisions, especially when you're a young man and you feel you have all this energy to give.
"But I know that being an ex-player you can't control injuries. It's a sad one for him, but there's lots of life ahead of him."
A Type 1 diabetic who wears an insulin pump, DePape also did a lot of work with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation while in Kamloops, where he said "I met a lot of people and made a lot of good friends . . . who will be my friends for life."
DePape had six points, four of them goals, in 17 games this season. He finishes his WHL career with 106 points, including 48 goals, in 142 regular-season games.
Meanwhile, Lipon, who had 19 goals in 69 games last season, ran his WHL-leading total to 21 with two goals against the Cougars. His second goal, at 15:25 of the third period, forged a 4-4 tie. Then he won it with a goal in the fourth round of the shootout.
When it went to a shootout, Lipon said he looked back at associate coach Dave Hunchak.
"He was like, 'You got one?' I was like, 'Yeah, I'll go,' " Lipon said. "I was going to shoot and I ended up deking. You've kind of got to adapt at times."
Lipon also became the WHL's first 50-point man this season, while linemate Colin Smith had two assists to stay within a point of the lead.
Cole Ully also scored twice for Kamloops, ending a 10-game drought.
"It is amazing how if you shoot the puck you have the potential of scoring," Charron said. "And if you don't shoot, don't expect to score. He shot twice and he got two goals."
Asked if he had been urging Ully to shoot more, Charron replied: "Everyone. Not just him."
The Cougars, who held 2-0 and 4-3 leads, got goals from Jari Erricson, Colin Jacobs, Chase Witala and Ryan Hanes. The latter, a former Blazers player in his second game with the Cougars, put the visitors ahead at 12:56 of the third period.
"I wasn't nervous," said Hanes, who is from Kamloops and heard loud cheers when he scored. "I was more excited to get going."
While the Blazers (19-5-1) remain four points clear atop the WHL's overall standings, the Cougars (7-11-4) are tied for the Western Conference's last playoff spot.
"That's the way we play all the time," Cougars head coach Dean Clark said. "We've played a lot of good games where we've found a way not to win."
Charron added: "They have our number as far as how they play us. They play hard and you have to give them credit. I give them credit for the effort they put out every time they play us."
JUST NOTES: The attendance was 4,692. . . . Blazers G Cole Cheveldave stopped 27 shots, five fewer than Prince George's Mac Engel. . . . Engel made the game's best stop when he came across to get a glove on a hard shot Tim Bozon thought was into an open side in the second period. Bozon was left gritting his teeth and muttering to himself. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Lipon: Scoring leader comes through when needed; 2. F Jarrett Fontaine, Prince George: Mr. Hustle; 3. Ully: Blazers need more of that secondary scoring. . . . Former Blazers D Austin Madaisky is on the shelf with the ECHL's Evansville IceMen. He has a wrist injury and is to be in Columbus today to see the Blue Jackets' medical staff. Doctors in Evansville have indicated that he may have a torn ligament (scapholunate). He now wants to get a second opinion. Madaisky said it's something that has been bothering him since he was in training camp with the AHL's Springfield Falcons. Madaisky, 20, who is under contract to the Blue Jackets, has five points, including one goal, in eight games with the IceMen.
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