DePape leaves his heart in Kamloops

It’s always tough when bad things happen to good people. When that person is Jordan DePape, fate seems particularly cruel.

On Saturday night, after a shootout victory over the Prince George Cougars, the 20-year-old walked into the Kamloops Blazers dressing room and told his teammates his Western Hockey League career was over. His damaged right shoulder needs surgery and rehab.

“It was tough,” said DePape on Monday. “We had two really big games this weekend and I didn’t want to let them know before, because it would be a distraction to the team. I didn’t think that was fair.”

Instead, DePape - one of the most well-liked players on the team - kept his heartbreaking news a secret until after the game. He had tried to hold his emotions in check as best as possible, but when head coach Guy Charron began to speak, the reality hit home.

“It instantly brought tears to my eyes,” said DePape, who spent four seasons with the Blazers. “My teammates knew that was it for me this season. I had to stand up and I made a speech from my heart.

“I told the guys, ‘take every moment in because you never know when it will be over.’ ”

It should come as no surprise that even as DePape’s junior hockey dream was coming to end, his first thoughts were for the team and his teammates. Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 13, the right-winger has dedicated himself to helping others with the disease, particularly children.

“I had no one to look up to living with the disease,” said DePape. “I’m going to be there for other kids to let them know that this disease shouldn’t hold you back from your dreams.”

DePape’s own dreams have now been put on hold.

He said he knows the decision to end his WHL career is the right one for his long-term health. But that hasn’t made the decision to leave any easier. The Blazers are currently the top team in the WHL at 19-5-0-1, with a legitimate shot at the league championship and a trip to Saskatoon for the Memorial Cup next May.

“It was so hard (to call it quits),” said DePape, who had four goals and two assists in 17 games this season. “My goal since being drafted was to win a Memorial Cup and a league final. I really believe that this team can do it this year. I was so looking forward to that and to now not be a part of it from a roster standpoint – words can’t describe how hard that is for me.”

He left Kamloops on Sunday morning with his dad, Trevor, to make the drive – roughly 21 hours - back home to Winnipeg.

“I didn’t sleep a wink,” said DePape on Monday afternoon. “I still haven’t even slept and it’s been over 24 hours with all these thoughts in my head about how hard it is to leave this Blazers organization and my junior career.”

He’s scheduled to undergo surgery next week in Winnipeg and his recovery time is still unclear. DePape said he’s planning on going to school to study criminology at the University of Manitoba and is hopeful he’ll be able to play hockey for the Bisons.

DePape was inspired to pursue a career in law enforcement after befriending Yves Lacasse, the RCMP chief of police in Kamloops. As part of an education program, Lacasse took DePape downtown to meet with members of the city’s marginalized community.

“I was talking to these drug addicts first hand and people who had been in jail,” said DePape. “They were just regular people like you and I, but they had just made a couple (of) wrong decisions in life and now they’re on the streets. It’s so hard to get out of that cycle.

“If I could have the chance to help people make a change in their lives that would make me feel better.”

In the meantime, an outpouring of support from fans and players across the WHL has buoyed his spirit. Since DePape’s decision came after his final game, the Kamloops faithful were denied an opportunity to say goodbye. Many of them took to Facebook and Twitter to let him know how much he meant to the community.

“There are hundreds of messages,” said DePape. “It’s made it so much easier. I didn’t realize how much support I had, it’s amazing. I thank them for that. It means everything to me.”

The Blazers said they’re planning on discussing holding a night for DePape once he’s recovered from his surgery – possibly in February or March. On Monday afternoon, the Blazers had already made a trade to bring in overage forward Charles Inglis from the Red Deer Rebels to fill DePape's spot in the lineup.

Still, despite the bad hand he’s been dealt, DePape is trying to be as positive as possible. He learned at an early age that in the grand scheme of things, an injured shoulder will heal and new opportunities will  present themselves.

“If I wasn’t diagnosed with diabetes and I hadn’t gone through that, it wouldn’t have made me who I am,” said DePape. “It wouldn’t have made me a stronger person. Having gone through something so powerful in life, it’s made me stronger in this situation and it’s the reason why I’m handling things the way I am right now. I’m having a positive outlook, most people would be down.

“I want to beat the odds and make a comeback, and maybe play hockey next season.”

Sunaya Sapurji is the Junior Hockey Editor at Yahoo! Sports.
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