Micheal Zipp’s passion for hockey began as a kid.

Since then, he’s been thrust into a notable junior hockey career where he was recently named captain of the Calgary Hitmen. But despite his achievements, Zipp is still struggling to break into the National Hockey League (NHL) even as he works hard to ensure his success.

Zipp was raised in Edmonton, where his passion for hockey was cultivated in his own backyard. That’s where his family made an outdoor rink during the winter season. And though he played other sports like basketball and soccer, it’s not surprising that he chose to pursue hockey as he got older.

Zipp smiles at the memory of how his father almost ‘forced’ the game upon him.

“My dad kind of just gave me a stick right when I was able to hold it,” he recalls. “Then he kind of gave me the decision to keep on playing and I always loved it.” This made pursuing hockey an easy decision for Zipp, who said that he has lived and breathed the sport ever since.

“I kind of grew my love of the game from there,” he said. Zipp’s 2016-2017 team photo with the Calgary Hitmen. Photo courtesy of Candice Ward/Calgary Hitmen.

This love for hockey has indeed remained undiminished throughout the years. In fact, whether it was being switched from forward to his current position of defence as a minor hockey player, or being drafted into the Western Hockey League (WHL) in 2011, Zipp’s enjoyment of the game has always been his motivation.

“I love to go out and skate on the ice. Even just to hear the sound of my blades sometimes touch the ice — it’s pretty special for me,” he said.

On Oct. 13, 2016, Zipp achieved what is perhaps the pinnacle of his personal success to this point when he was named captain of the Calgary Hitmen.

“Coach pulled me aside and he just said, ‘You’re going to be representing the guys this year’,” he said.

The decision to name him captain was an easy one. Hitmen head coach Mark French said he felt it was important to seek the opinions of both players and coaches before naming a captain for the upcoming season. And upon seeking a decision, French said all parties “were very much in sync. Unanimously, Micheal was on the ballot as captain.” 

Zipp keeps the puck in at the blue line and carries it towards the middle of the ice. The team is practicing power play formations. The forward retrieves the puck from behind the offensive goal line and passes back to Zipp who either shoots towards the net or passes to his defence partner. Photo by Blaise Kemna.

Zipp had been an alternate captain during the previous two seasons and French took note of the way he conducted himself. It proved a successful audition and Zipp sees similarities between his new role and his previous position. “There’s a mindset shift a bit and I think in a way it’s still continuing from last year,” he said.

However, Zipp still recognizes the added responsibilities of wearing the C.

“I think it’s still, in a sense, more onus on me to be that leader,” he said. “I’m a centre figure now and the guys sometimes call on me to always be consistent on the ice and in the room. To get the guy’s morale up and be positive all the time.”

Zipp’s captaincy demands that he be a leader in the dressing room and on the ice. This is something that his head coach lauds him for.

“One thing with Micheal – he’s very authentic. So he is a guy that likes to talk in the room a hundred percent,” says French. “He’s certainly a guy who’s ready to step in for a teammate in a lot of situations and you know, really sets an example with his work ethic on the ice so I think that’s a big part of his leadership.”

Zipp adds, “However you lead on the ice is going to be good for guys going forward. So for me, it’s just playing smart and using my veteran experience in this league to help all the younger guys and lead the guys as best I can.”

One might assume it would be easy for Zipp to make the jump to the NHL in light of his success and experience. But this has proven easier said than done for the Hitmen captain.

“I love to go out and skate on the ice. Even just to hear the sound of my blades sometimes touch the ice- it’s pretty special for me,” – Micheal Zipp.

Zipp went undrafted in the 2015 NHL entry draft. This summer he was invited to the Montreal Canadiens’ training camp, where he experienced more of what it takes to make the big league. The biggest difference between the NHL and the WHL, Zipp said, is the speed of the game.

“You gotta think quicker than the puck sometimes and that was the biggest thing for me,” he admits.

Unfortunately, the Canadiens reassigned Zipp to the Hitmen at the end of camp without signing him to a contract.

“It was kind of bittersweet” Zipp said. “This year is a big question mark. I could be in a hundred different places in a year.”

With that being said, Zipp is still hopeful an NHL team will come calling and is working hard to ensure his future success by concentrating on the present. “I’m just trying to focus on next games and moving forward here.”

“Obviously, an NHL contract would be pretty cool. Other than that, I’m pretty sure whoever wants me, I’m willing to play… whether it’s beer league or it’s pro, you know, whatever it is, I have a strong passion.”

bkemna@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article is Mary Yohannes and can be contacted at myohannes@cjournal.ca