Inside the Flyers: Zepp a feel-good story in a lost season
BUFFALO - The Flyers, despite having the NHL's highest-scoring duo, are a train wreck. They lack consistency from period to period, let alone from game to game.
BUFFALO - The Flyers, despite having the NHL's highest-scoring duo, are a train wreck.
They lack consistency from period to period, let alone from game to game.
They have several players grumbling about the way they have been used by coach Craig Berube, whose job security isn't exactly at an all-time high.
They talk about their great off-ice chemistry, but that hasn't translated into many winning results.
BULLETIN: We interrupt this midseason Flyers obituary to bring you one of the few feel-good stories in another year without a Stanley Cup.
Hello, Rob Zepp.
The 33-year-old "freshman" goalie the players call "Zepper" has been a breath of fresh air in a season gone stale. Entering Saturday, he had played in only four games for the Flyers, but he held his own and, considering his solid work for the Phantoms this season, there is a good chance that he will be Steve Mason's caddy next year and that the team will not re-sign Ray Emery. (Zepp may even replace Emery as the backup this season when Mason returns from an injury.)
A year ago, almost no local fans had even heard of Zepp. Now, because of his perseverance story, he has become a cult figure of sorts. A Vince Papale on skates, if you will.
On Thursday, as Emery was struggling, Flyers fans were chanting for Zepp to enter the game. Zepp claimed he didn't hear them, claimed he was just focused on what was happening on the ice.
He won three of his first four starts, including Saturday night's 4-3 win in Buffalo, and suffered a 1-0 loss to Washington in his best performance.
"I've been playing hockey for 26 years, trying to get here," he said.
After playing for seven years in Germany and having stops in the OHL, ECHL, and AHL, Zepp has made a favorable impression: a 3-1 record, a 2.38 goals-against average, and a .904 save percentage. He has blanked Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos and Washington's Alex Ovechkin, two of the game's elite forwards.
"It's something to build on," he said.
"He's got good structure in the net," Berube said. "I like his game."
Zepp, recalled from the Phantoms because of an injury that is expected to sideline Mason until Jan. 27, is getting more acclimated to the NHL with each game.
"It's like anything, when you come into a new situation, it takes a while to get comfortable. But day by day, with each practice and each game, I'm definitely feeling more and more like myself," he said.
He is not feeling as if a bad performance will cost him playing time.
"At this point, I have nothing to lose, so I'm not going to dwell on that," he said. "It took a long time to get here, and I'm not going to focus on the negative things that could come out of it. I'm just enjoying the moment and doing what I can do."
Zepp, an energetic sort who exudes confidence, was asked whether he ever had doubts he belonged in the NHL.
"Well, no. I always believed in my ability, for sure," he said. "There's always that element of unknown until you do it, but I was very confident in myself and my game that I could do it."
There was never a time when he thought about giving up his NHL dream. Unlike minor-league baseball players, Zepp was paid well in his climb to the big leagues.
"I believed in myself and felt I kept improving every year, and you make a pretty good living over in Europe, so from that standpoint, it was not like there was a financial requirement that made me stop playing," he said. "If you continue to improve, opportunities present themselves. It definitely keeps you motivated and keeps you believing that opportunity will come."
An opportunity arose when general manager Ron Hextall offered him a one-year, two-way deal for $600,000 in July. When Hextall was an assistant GM with the Kings, he had his eyes on Zepp.
In Germany, Zepp was teammates with Claude Giroux and Danny Briere during the 2012-13 lockout, and those two players brought favorable reports back to the Flyers.
Zepp said his wife, parents, in-laws, family members, and teammates throughout the years have always been there for him.
"There's a long, long list of people who have helped," he said.
And a short list of players who have persevered like Zepp, who became the oldest goalie in 88 years to win his NHL debut.
Inside the Flyers: A Long Journey
Here are Rob Zepp's career statistics in his winding path to the NHL:
Season Team GP W L T OT SO GA SA SV% GAA MIN
1997-98 Newmarket Hurricanes (OJHL) 3 - - - - 0 13 - - 4.31 181
1998-99 Plymouth Whalers (OHL) 31 19 3 4 - 3 76 - - 2.74 1,662
1999-2000 Plymouth Whalers (OHL) 53 36 11 3 - 3 119 1,231 .903 2.38 3,005
2000-01 Plymouth Whalers (OHL) 55 34 18 3 - 4 122 1,445 - 2.26 3,246
2001-02 Florida Everblades (ECHL) 13 6 5 2 - 0 41 417 .902 3.33 739
2002-03 Florida Everblades (ECHL) 41 20 13 7 - 3 112 1,238 .910 2.83 2,372
2002-03 Lowell Lock Monsters (AHL) 5 1 3 1 - 1 16 204 .922 3.16 303
2003-04 Florida Everblades (ECHL) 35 14 13 7 - 0 101 1,286 .921 2.95 2,052
2003-04 Lowell Lock Monsters (AHL) 2 0 1 1 - 0 7 65 .892 3.40 124
2004-05 Florida Everblades (ECHL) 26 11 10 2 - 2 63 699 .910 2.67 1,414
2005-06 Saipa Lappeenranta (Finland) 44 18 16 9 - 4 85 - - 2.04 2,501
2006-07 Saipa Lappeenranta (Finland) 24 8 11 4 - 0 70 - - 3.29 1,278
2007-08 Eisbaren Berlin (Germany) 41 28 12 0 - 3 107 - - 2.62 -
2008-09 Eisbaren Berlin (Germany) 43 28 15 - - 2 108 - - 2.52 2,569
2009-10 Eisbaren Berlin (Germany) 50 39 11 - - 5 130 - - 2.62 2,975
2010-11 Eisbaren Berlin (Germany) 43 24 16 - - 2 100 - - 2.41 2,493
2012-13 Eisbaren Berlin (Germany) 46 25 21 - - 5 127 - - 2.74 2,777
2013-14 Eisbaren Berlin (Germany) 38 24 14 0 - 1 90 1,297 - 2.39 2,256
2014-15 Flyers 4 2 1 - 0 0 8 88 .909 2.21 217