The Kamloops Blazers will have a player in the Canadian national junior team's selection camp next week for the first time in six years.
Right-winger JC Lipon, a 19-year-old fourth-year player from Regina, was one of 11 WHLers on the 37-player roster that was released by Hockey Canada on Monday.
"I heard Sunday night," Lipon said Monday evening. "I was pretty excited, especially after the game I had . . . it made me a little happier."
Lipon and the Blazers dropped a 3-1 decision to the host Seattle Thunderbirds on Sunday.
The last time the Blazers had a player in camp and on Team Canada was 2006 when goaltender Devan Dubnyk made the grade.
This is a dream come true for Lipon, who is most familiar with the heroics of Reginan Jordan Eberle with Team Canada at past tournaments.
A midget-aged player then, Lipon remembers being at a Regina Pats game when a Team Canada was put up on the Jumbotron.
"No one was watching the real hockey game, everyone was watching the Canada game," a chuckling Lipon said.
Although he doesn't play golf, Lipon is a regular attendee at Eberle's annual tournament in Regina so he knows the Edmonton Oilers winger who, with the NHL lockout in progress, now is with the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons.
Lipon has led the WHL in goals - he has 22 - and points for most of this season, although he now is tied for the points lead with linemate Colin Smith. Each has 55 points.
They will try to increase their totals tonight when the Blazers entertain the Swift Current Broncos. Game time at Interior Savings Centre is 7 o'clock.
Lipon and Smith, a 19-year-old centre from Edmonton, skated for Team WHL in one game during last month's Subway Super Series against a Russian team. However, Smith, who has experience in Hockey Canada's Program of Excellence, isn't on the selection camp roster.
Smith, who has a WHL-leading 34 assists, would have had to be among Canada's top six forwards and that would have been a tough nut to crack. Unfortunately for him, he won't get that opportunity.
"It's sad to see a guy like that passed over," Lipon said. "But at the same time I have to be excited for myself and be proud, too."
The Canadian roster includes four centres - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of AHL-Oklahoma Cit, Jonathan Huberdeau of the Saint John Sea Dogs, Mark Scheifele of the Barrie Colts and Ryan Strome of the Niagara Ice Dogs - all of whom likely would be playing in the NHL were it not in lockout mode. All four were top 10 selections in the NHL's 2011 draft, by the Oilers, Florida Panthers, Winnipeg Jets and New York Islanders, respectively.
Lipon is a more physically dominant player than Smith and will be looking for a spot on the bottom half of the roster.
"I'm just going to try to play my same game, maybe think a little more about finishing every hit and being really responsible in the (defensive) zone," Lipon said. "I want to be reliable whether it's a third- or fourth-line position I'm battling for."
"I'm going there to make the team," he added, "but it should be just a great experience overall. Hopefully, I'll learn some things from those guys."
He also knows that his speed and work ethic will hold him in good stead as he skates with the country's top junior-aged players.
"Maybe one guy will complement me just like Smitty and it'll work out," Lipon said.
The Blazers will be without Lipon for at least two games - Dec. 11 in Calgary and Dec. 12 in Edmonton - but he will miss at least eight games if he makes the final roster.
Lipon is one of 21 forwards on the camp roster. There also are four goaltenders and 12 defencemen listed. There are 18 players from the OHL, seven from the QMJHL and one from the AHL. (A complete roster is in Scoreboard.)
Huberdeau, Scheifele, Strome, forward Boone Jenner (Oshawa Generals) and defencemen Dougie Hamilton (Niagara) and Scott Harrington (London Knights) are the only players invited to camp who were on the Canadian team that finished third a year ago when the tournament was held in Calgary and Edmonton.
The camp opens Monday in Calgary, with the final 23-player roster - three goaltenders, seven defencemen and 13 forwards - to be announced early on Dec. 13.
The hopefuls will play an intrasquad game on Dec. 11, then will play against university teams on Dec. 12 and 13. Canada flies out of Calgary on Dec. 15 for a pre-competition camp in Finland.
The World Junior Championship opens Dec. 26 in Ufa, Russia. The tournament is returning to a larger international ice surface this month, after a four-year stint on smaller surfaces in North America.
Blazers D Marek Hrbas was named officially to the Czech Republic's 27-player selection camp roster yesterday. He will leave the Blazers after playing Dec. 12 in Edmonton. His chances of making the Czech roster are excellent - he played in the WJC last year. That being the case, he will miss at least six WHL games.
The five-day Czech camp opens in Rokycany on Dec. 15, with the team leaving for Russia on Dec. 20.
Two other WHL players - G Patrik Bartosak of Red Deer and D David Musil of Edmonton - are on the Czech roster.
The Blazers (21-7-3) go into tonight's game having lost two straight games.
They concluded a seven-game homestand with a 3-2 shootout loss to the Moose Jaw Warriors on Saturday. Kamloops went 4-1-2 in those seven games.
"These last few games leading up to that camp I have to start playing my best hockey again and get in a groove," Lipon said.
The Blazers will play the Prince George Cougars here on Saturday. That will be Kamloops' final home game before Christmas.
The Cougars will be without F Colin Jacobs, who has been suspended for six games for a headshot he delivered in a game against the visiting Victoria Royals on Friday.
JUST NOTES: The Blazers' power play is 1-for-25 over its last six games. . . . The Broncos (12-13-5) don't have any B.C. players on their roster. However, F Glenn Gawdin, their first-round selection in the 2012 bantam draft, is from Richmond. Gawdin, the fifth overall selection, is with the major midget Greater Vancouver Canadians. . . . The Broncos will be missing F Daniel Dale, who will be completing a two-game suspension for instigating a fight late in a 7-2 loss to the visiting Spokane Chiefs on Friday. . . . The Broncos, who arrived in Kamloops early on Sunday evening, are 5-5-0 in their last 10 games. They last played Saturday when they blanked the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings, 5-0. . . . The Broncos started G Landon Bow in that game, but he left in the first period with an undisclosed injury. It's expected that Steve Myland, 18, of the junior B North Delta Devils will be the back up tonight. . . . Swift Current G Eetu Laurikainen, 19, is scheduled to leave to join Finland's world junior team after playing against the Royals in Victoria on Saturday. He's 12-12-4, 2.52, .918 in his first WHL season. . . . The Broncos have acquired D Brett Lernout, 17, from the Saskatoon Blades for a fourth-round selection in the 2013 bantam draft. Lernout, from Winnipeg, was pointless in 18 games with the Blades.
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