Alumnus Rob Zepp proving perseverance pays off, News (York-Simcoe Express)

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Alumnus Rob Zepp proving perseverance pays off
Submitted By Adam Nightingale on Friday, March 13, 2015
At the age of 33, he not only made his NHL debut, but won it too.  He became the oldest goalie to do so since Hugh Lerman in 1926.  He’s played in the AHL, ECHL, DEL (Deutsche Eishockey Liga) in Germany and even in the SM-Liiga in Finland before topping off his seemingly endless journey with his NHL debut in 2014.  A journey that he will never forget.  So who exactly is HE?

The mystery man I’m talking about is goaltender Rob Zepp.  Unless you follow hockey in-depth, Zepp’s name may not be a familiar one to you, and thats quite alright.  To many, he’s just another goalie.  To some however, he’s a goalie with an incredible story to tell.  Flashback to 1998 and you think of dial-up internet, those clunky cell phones and Windows 98.  For Newmarket, Ontario native Rob Zepp, 1998 brings back a plethora of memories including playing his Minor Midget year with his childhood triple-A club, the York-Simcoe Express.  After a short stint with the OPJHL’s Newmarket 87’s (Now Hurricanes), Rob was drafted into the OHL in the 1998 OHL Priority Selection by the Plymouth Whalers in the 5th round.  He appeared in 31 games in his rookie season where he posted a record of 19-3-4.  Zepp spent three seasons with Plymouth and was even named their captain in 2000-2001, becoming the only goalie in the team’s history to have the ‘C’, something he says he’ll cherish forever.  “It was a huge honour, one of the biggest honours I’ve ever received in my career.  I’ve still got the jersey and it’s hanging up in a room at home” Said Zepp. 
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(Photo courtesy of Christian Bonin @ TSGphoto.com)

In the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, he was Selected 99th overall (4th round) by the Atlanta Thrashers.  Just as fast as Rob’s NHL dreams had become a reality, they came to a screeching halt.  Zepp’s entry-level contract with the Thrashers was deemed invalid by the NHL due to the fax arriving at the central registry seven minutes past the deadline.  A huge blow to his NHL aspirations.  “It was pretty devastating at the time” said Zepp, following his teams 4-3 victory over the Toronto Marlies on Wednesday night.  “You’re 19 years old and on the verge of signing with the team that drafted you, so it was pretty devastating.”  In 2001, Rob re-entered the draft and was selected by the Carolina Hurricanes 110th overall (4th round) but never got an opportunity to make his way up the depth chart.  That road-block ultimately led him to venture overseas to play in Europe.  “It was a no brainer for me, I felt like no matter what I did every year I wasn’t getting an opportunity to advance through the system” says Zepp who spent six seasons bouncing between the ECHL and the AHL before joining SaiPa of the SM-Liiga in Finland in 2005.  While Zepp says it was one of the best decisions he’s made in his career, he also points out how tough it was not to see the people he was closest to for such a long time.  “I was dating my now wife then, and she was in school, so it made things pretty hard for us.” 
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(Photo courtesy of Christian Bonin @ TSGphoto.com)

Zepp would spend two seasons in Finland before heading to Germany for the 2007-08 season, where he immediately became a permanent fixture in the net for Berlin Polar Bears in the DEL.  In his first season with the Polar Bears, he played 41 games and finished the year with a record of 24-9-0.  Rob would spend a total of seven years in Germany playing for the Polar Bears, but it was his 5th year that ultimately became the game changer.  With the NHL having shut it’s doors with another lockout for the 2012-2013 season, players were forced to seek roster spots overseas.  Philadelphia Flyers’ Claude Giroux and Danny Briere ventured to Germany to suit up for the Polar Bears while the lockout continued to drag on.  That’s where they met Rob Zepp.  The three instantly became friends, and that friendship is ultimately what led to Zepp’s return to North America.
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(Image via goironpigs.com)

Last off-season the Flyers had a problem.  After not tendering restricted free-agent goaltender Cal Heeter a qualifying offer, Philly was left with one less goalie on their organizational roster.  Having already seen Zepp play while watching Giroux and Briere during the lockout, and the strong friendship that had developed, it was no surprise when Flyers’ GM Ron Hextall inked the veteran journeyman to a one-year, two-way contract to fill the empty roster spot on their AHL team, the Phantoms.  
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(Photo courtesy of Christian Bonin @ TSGphoto.com)

After starting the year with the LeHigh Valley Phantoms, Zepp would FINALLY get the chance to play in the NHL.  With Steve Mason injured, and back to back games looming in Toronto and Winnipeg, Zepp was given his first NHL start against the Jets on December 21st.  The Flyers had trailed all game long and rallied back and defeated Winnipeg in overtime to give Rob that long awaited 1st career win.  “A lot of emotions and a long road to get there” says Zepp, about his first NHL start and win.  Just a few months later, an even bigger surprise.  The Newmarket, Ontario native would get the nod on February 26th against the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.  A chance to play in the building he frequented as a fan while growing up, was something that Zepp says he’ll cherish forever.  “It was a huge thrill, being from the area to play in the ACC.” He said, despite his team falling 3-2 to the Maple Leafs.

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(Image courtesy of Christian Bonin @ TSGphoto.com)

When the topic of his time with the Express came up, a smile flashed across his face, immediately sparking memories.  A lot has changed with the Express’ organization since Zepp’s time but he remembers his days of minor hockey very fondly.  “I still talk to a couple of the guys” said Zepp referring to his former teammates.  “We didn’t have the greatest team, my age group, the population wasn’t huge there (Newmarket/Aurora) and it was still a developing program, but it’s awesome to see how well the organization is doing now at all different levels.”

Rob’s success is a highlight to any player at any position and in any sport that is struggling to live their dream.  Zepp’s advice to those players is simple.  “Believe in yourself and never give-up on yourself” he said.  “If you’re not going to believe in yourself, nobody will so first and foremost you got to believe in yourself and work your butt off to get to where you want to be.”



Career Highlights:

  • 5 time DEL league champion (with the Berlin Polar Bears)
  • CHL scholastics player of the year in 1998/99
  • OHL All-Star in 1999/2000 and again in 2000/2001
  • Recipient of the Bobby Smith Trophy as the best scholastics player of the year in the OHL in 98/99
  • Best GAA in the OHL (2.38) in 99/2000
  • OHL second All-Star team in 99/2000
  • Two time OHL All-Star in 99/2000 and again in 00/01
  • ECHL All-Star in 02/03

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