Under normal circumstances, Jordan DePape is a chatty young man.
Ask him how he's coping with not being a part of the Kamloops Blazers' run to first place in the WHL's Western Conference, though, and he is lost for words.
"Ahh, I don't know . . . it's . . . it's . . . it's definitely really hard to explain," DePape, 19, said from his home in Winnipeg. "I've been with the Blazers for a couple of years and I haven't been around when the team has had much team success. Being away is harder than anything."
He won't be there tonight, either, as the Blazers try to protect their perch atop the WHL's overall standings from the Tri-City Americans, who are two points in arrears and visiting Interior Savings Centre. Game time is 7 o'clock.
DePape last played for the Blazers on Oct. 10 against the Medicine Hat Tigers. At 1:41 of the second period, he got into a scrap with forward Emerson Etem - the two had had a verbal jousting match late in the first period. In the early going of the scrap, DePape grabbed onto Etem's jersey with his left hand, felt something give in his left shoulder and left the ice surface with the arm hanging at his side.
DePape returned to Winnipeg and had reconstructive surgery on Nov. 4.
He began rehabilitation shortly thereafter. That includes regular trips to a physiotherapist and four on-ice sessions a week, one with the St. Boniface Riels of the Manitoba Major Junior League and three with the midget AAA Winnipeg Wild. DePape played for the Wild as a 15-year-old.
"It's feeling good," he said of the shoulder, "especially the last two weeks. It's made some huge improvements. I'm hoping it keeps going that way."
He has been doing a lot of skating and shooting, but hasn't been cleared for contact.
"My wrist shot and snapshot are probably at about 80 per cent," he said. "I'm taking about three-quarter strength slap shots with no pain. I'm making some good improvements."
The plan right now is for DePape to rejoin the Blazers later this month when he will begin working on getting back into playing shape.
"My upper-body strength isn't where it was but, realistically, it's not that important for hockey," DePape said. "If you look at my cardio and my leg strength, it's pretty darn good. There should be no excuses when I come back."
Upon his return, DePape said he expects to be reintroduced to associate head coach Dave Hunchak.
"I'll probably get some nice bag skates in from Uncle Hunch," DePape said with a laugh. "I'll have some nice visits from him, I'm sure.
"I'll get a couple of weeks of practice in and then hopefully get back in the lineup."
When DePape was injured, he was skating on one of the Blazers' top two lines. But that spot alongside Brendan Ranford and Chase Schaber now is being filled by Brandon Herrod. However, that doesn't bother DePape. He just wants to play.
"I hope I can come back, add some depth, bring some leadership and make our team that much stronger," DePape said. "Wherever I am in the lineup, it doesn't really matter. If you look at our top three lines, top nine forwards, that's a pretty elite core.
"I think our third line could almost be a first line on some teams in this league. You look at Dylan Willick and he's a 20-goal scorer already. He's a third-line guy? I don't think so.
"It's kind of hard to find a place on our team. The depth is scary."
The Blazers won't have any trouble finding room for DePape on their roster. They know that they will need all the depth they can find if they are to make a playoff run.
Last season, DePape had 48 points, including 21 goals, in 54 games. This season, he had five points, two of them goals, in six games.
When DePape does return, he hinted that he might be something of a different player.
"This has been a learning experience," he said. "With this time off, I have (had) time to reflect on a lot of things that I can work on and change with my game. My off-ice training, I've been working on other things than just strength. I think I can bring some new elements to my game when I come back."
While the Blazers were the No. 2-ranked team in all of the 59-team CHL when last week's rankings came out, they are only at No. 16 in the Buzzing The Net Dynamic Dozen that is done by Neate Sager of Yahoo! Sports.
Sager, who writes the Buzzing The Net major junior blog, uses something called the Ratings Percentage Index with a recency factor. It takes into account a team's record with the strength of its opponents.
In the Dynamic Dozen, the Blazers are behind Tri-City (tied for 2), the Edmonton Oil Kings (4), Portland Winterhawks (5), Moose Jaw Warriors (6), Calgary Hitmen (9), Saskatoon Blades (10) and Spokane Chiefs (12). Sager has the QMJHL's Saint John Sea Dogs ranked first, with the Americans and the Shawinigan Cataractes tied for second. Shawinigan is the host team for this season's Memorial Cup tournament.
JUST NOTES: Kamloops F J.C. Lipon (concussion) didn't pass the neurocognitive test on Monday so will be out a while longer. He has missed two games. . . . D Tyler Hansen, who sat out Saturday's 3-1 victory over the host Seattle Thunderbirds with an undisclosed injury, practised Tuesday and will play tonight. . . . The Blazers will open with Cole Cheveldave in goal. . . . Kamloops is 2-0-1 against the Americans this season, having won 3-2 in regulation time and 4-3 in a shootout, while losing 3-2 in OT. . . . Kamloops is 30-5-3 against conference opponents. . . . While the Blazers are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, the Americans are 4-4-2. . . . The Oil Kings, who lead the Eastern Conference, moved into a tie with the Americans after beating the visiting Kootenay Ice 3-1 on Tuesday afternoon. . . . Kelowna F Brett Lyon has been hit with a six-game suspension for a Saturday night hit that left F Jarrett Fontaine of the Prince George Cougars with a concussion. That means Lyon won't play in this weekend's home-and-home set with the Blazers that opens here on Friday.
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