Chilliwack’s Wade Epp will play professional hockey this fall, signing a two-way minor-pro contract.
Epp has inked his two way deal with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League and the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL.
Both teams are minor league affiliates of the National Hockey League’s Washington Capitals.
Epp, who’s been working out at Chilliwack’s Xceed Training Center under the guidance of Paul Nicolls, leaves Sept. 10 for the Capitals rookie camp.
“From there I either stay with them for their main camp or they send me down to Hershey’s camp,” Epp explained. “And from there I either stay with Hershey or I go down to South Carolina.”
Epp, 25 years old, just finished a nice run at the University of Northern Michigan, logging 141 games for the Wildcats.
“A really good time and I wouldn’t trade those years for anything,” he said, smiling. “I met a lot of great people, got a degree in marketing and learned a lot about myself. I couldn’t be happier with my time there.”
He learned to do laundry, cook dinners and be self-sufficient, acquiring skills that will serve him well.
“I went there as a 20 year old and grew up a lot,” he said. “I lived by myself and learned quickly how to take care of things like laundry, food and cleaning.”
During that time he also attended two development camps with the Capitals, developing a relationship with their collegiate scouts.
“I’ve met quite a few people within their organization,” Epp said. “The second development camp was at the end of last season, and I needed to do well to earn a contract. I did that.”
Standing six-foot-four and weighing 205 pounds, Epp has crafted himself into a defensive defenceman.
His numbers don’t pop.
He scored just nine goals and 34 points in his NCAA tour, but Epp said he puts his offensive skills to use in a defensive way.
“I’m a big puck-moving defenceman who likes to chip in offensively when I can, but I don’t go out of my way to do it,” Epp said. “I have a good first pass. My skating is pretty good. I’m physical and I see myself as really reliable in the D zone.”
The biggest knock Epp would put on himself is game-to-game consistency. Not an uncommon problem for younger players.
“Preparing for each game, getting into a routine that helps me bring what I need to bring each night,” he said. “Hockey is a very mental game with a lot of ups and downs. You’ve got to keep a level head and not let things bother you. I have to focus on always being ready to do my job.”
Before going to university, Epp split 80 regular season and 27 playoff games between three junior A teams.
In the BCHL he played 13 games for the Surrey Eagles and 28 for the Victoria Grizzlies. He played another 39 with the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Drumheller Dragons, all of this taking place between 2007-09.
“I found junior A hockey to be tough, with more similarities to the pro game because you could be cut or traded,” he said. “One thing I enjoyed about NMU was being secure in one place for four years. That allowed me to focus and learn the game a lot more.”
Having seen Michigan, Epp now faces the prospect of living in Pennsylvania or South Carolina (North Charleston specifically).
The business side of hockey has made him a well-traveled man.
“I’ve been away from home since I was 18, so it’s nothing new to me,” he said. “I don’t know much about Hershey, other than they make chocolate and their AHL team is one of the most storied franchises in that league.”
In a perfect world, Epp would never see the North Charleston Coliseum, home of the Stingrays. But he’s a realist, and expects he’ll spend 2014-15 bouncing between leagues.
Obviously my goal is to play at the highest level, but it’s a very competitive game,” he reasoned. “If I were sent down, hopefully it would be because the coaches felt I could progress and develop better at that level. And hopefully I would get another shot with Hershey, so I wouldn’t get discouraged.”
With a degree in his back pocket, Epp doesn’t need to play hockey.
But the opportunity to get paid to play is too hard to pass up.
“As a kid, all I ever wanted to do was play in the NHL. But as you get older you realize what the chances are of that actually happening,” he said. “I have no problem playing minor-pro. If I ever got a shot to play in the NHL, that’d be awesome. But if not, that’s the way it goes and I’d be happy to have had this opportunity. You can make a decent living doing this.”