WINNIPEG -- It was the call JC Lipon had been waiting all his life for. It was also the one he almost missed because he had just picked up a new phone.
Lipon will play his first NHL game tonight after being recalled yesterday from the Manitoba Moose. He was about 45 minutes into a nap when his phone rang, and because he hadn’t added all his contacts, all that came up was ‘unknown number.’
It was Moose coach Keith McCambridge giving him the good news.
“I wasn’t going to answer it, but luckily I did,” said Lipon. “Had to make sure it wasn’t a pretty deep dream, then I had a fight at 4:30 home.”
Always import your contacts folks.
Lipon will have his parents and his grandparents in attendance tonight at MTS Centre, as he skates on a line with Andrew Copp and Anthony Peluso.
“I called my mom right away. I kind of wanted to call everyone, but I had to pack up and get to the airport,” said Lipon. “She’s really excited. She just knows I’ve been working hard. It’s a good thing for her too.”
Through 30 games with the Moose this season, Lipon has eight goals and 17 points. He was one of the final players re-assigned from training camp prior to this season, and coach Paul Maurice says the 22-year-old has earned this opportunity.
“He’s got to enjoy all of it,” Maurice said. “He plays hard, goes to the net hard, the kind of game we’re really trying to play right now and need to play. He’s earned it. He had a real good camp, we stayed healthy for a long time and he played that game for the Moose. So he’s the right guy.”
Lipon joins a Jets team fresh off back-to-back wins over Nashville and Minnesota. Tonight’s clash with Colorado (22-21-3) will be Winnipeg’s third straight game against a Central Division opponent. The Avalanche are also one of the teams the Jets (21-21-3) are competing with for the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference.
“They’ve changed a little bit from what you may remember last year. They’ve got three or four real powerful offensive guys up front,” said Maurice. “The rest of the guys are just going to work real hard and grind, and I find more of a defensive minded game.
“The two games that we played, there’s really only one period in there that I didn’t think we handled well was the first one on back-to-back nights. The other five, I’ve liked. They’re not giving you anything easy.”
Despite the fact Maurice has liked the majority of the team’s play against Colorado this season, Winnipeg has dropped both of their meetings with Colorado so far.
Blake Wheeler has registered two points in those two games against Colorado, but has been on a hot streak of late, scoring three goals in the last four games. He says the Avalanche play a fast-paced game, but it’s their focus on defence that has them sitting two points ahead of the Jets in the Central.
“I think they’ve rededicated themselves to that defensive first philosophy a little bit. You look at their neutral zone, they have a lot of guys back,” Wheeler said. “For us it’s all about maintaining speed. We’re a fast team as well. So if we’re allowing them to turn the puck over at our blue line and go back the other way, that’s where you get into trouble.”
And while injuries sometimes also spell trouble, Jets captain Andrew Ladd feels the Jets can lean on last year for experience during this spell of adversity. In 2014-2015, four of the team’s top defencemen were injured at the same time. Now with Mark Scheifele, Drew Stafford, and Adam Lowry all on injured reserve, that experience is proving valuable.
“It’s something that we talked about a lot last year, and we don’t really have to talk much about it this year because we’ve been through it and everyone has been a part of it,” said Ladd. “Maybe we play a little tighter and focus a little more on the defensive side of the puck, and it helps to simplify our game.”
That simple game led to a 1-0 win over Minnesota Friday night, which improved the Jets record against Central Division opponents to 6-10-1.
“I think anytime you’re coming off wins where you feel you’ve played the way you need to play, it build confidence in what we’re trying to do in here,” said Ladd. “We realize how big the Nashville game was, and coming back against a Minnesota team in a tough spot where you lose a couple guys, that’s a huge win for us. You gain some confidence from that and you try to use it in the right way.”
Puck drop is set for 7 pm CT.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com