Maybe, just maybe, there will be an Ontario Hockey League general manager or scout who will think outside the box when it comes to evaluating goalie Noah Zeppa of the minor midget Soo Thunderbirds.
Maybe, just maybe, the talent judges will evaluate Zeppa on his ability to stop the puck and his sharp technical skills rather than just focusing on his 5-foot-8, 145-pound frame.
The kid may not have size but he knows how to play his position.
Kevin Cain, who is the general manager of the Soo minor midgets, a first-year entry in the Great North Midget Hockey League, is a big fan of Zeppa and his abilities.
Cain, who has multiple prior championships to his credit as a former coach and general manager with both the Soo Indians and Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, noted that Zeppa has already shown the ability to steal points for the Soo minor midgets.
“Up in Cochrane in a pre-season tournament against major midget teams he put on a show,” Cain replayed. “We were out-shot one game by about 45 or 50 to 20 and Noah won the game for us.”
Cain said that part of what is special about Zeppa is that he does not try to compensate for his lack of size by flopping all over the place.
“He stands his ground,” Cain added. “He knows when to come out and challenge the shooter and he knows how to protect the net. And he does not get rattled. He’s as cool as a cucumber in the net.”
Having been around Sault Ste. Marie minor hockey circles for a long time now, Cain said Zeppa “is as good a goalie as I have seen from here in quite a while.”
Cain added that he hopes that OHL teams will check out Zeppa — who has a late birthday and does not turn 15 until December 2 of this year — in thorough fashion as a potential pick for the 2018 draft.
“Noah can play,” Cain said firmly. “He may be small but he makes big saves. Over and over again. He’s a perfect example that you don’t have to be big to stop the puck. It’s all about form, skill, ability and desire with Noah.”
Through his first three regular season starts for the Thunderbird minor midgets this 2017-2018 campaign Zeppa has a 0-0-3 record and 3.24 goals against average. (The Great North loop, for whatever reason, does not keep official shot totals that would calculate save percentage.)
While the odds may be against Zeppa because of his size, it is worth noting that a number of smaller goalies not only made it to the OHL over the years but excelled.
That list would include pint-sized, 5-foot-5, 155-pound Darren Pang, who tended twine for the Belleville Bulls and Ottawa 67’s from 1981 to 1984 and then went on to play in 81 games in the National Hockey League.
The list would also include Matt Mullin, a star goalie with the Windsor Spitfires and Sudbury Wolves from 1991 to 1995 while standing in at a mere 5-foot-7, 165 pounds.
Then there is Kyle Gajewski, a standout goalie with the Soo Greyhounds from 2004 until 2008. The 5-foot-10, 145-pound Gajewski won 114 games over four seasons in a Greyhound uniform.
And currently starring in the OHL is overage goalie Leo Lazarev, now of the Barrie Colts, formerly of the Ottawa 67’s. Lazarev is now in is his fourth OHL season as a 5-foot-10, 160-pound goalie.
Meanwhile, as the aforementioned Cain is a believer in Zeppa’s abilities, so too is Jamie Henderson, head coach of the Soo minor midgets.
“Noah is a hard worker,” Henderson. “He worked hard all summer and came in and made our team as a goalie with the ambition to match his skill. You have seen him play, you have seen what he can do. Hopefully the scouts will look past his lack of size and judge him solely on his ability to play the position.
“He definitely has the work ethic to match his skill level,” Henderson added, in further praise of Zeppa.
Meanwhile, Zeppa himself has learned to deal with the fact that he does not have the bigger frame that coaches and scouts often look for in a goalie. He told HockeyNewsNorth.com that he continues to work hard at overcoming any size obstacle.
“I always try to be set early,” he relayed. “I get in position to read the shooter…to face him and to challenge him.”
Zeppa noted that, size aside, he just wants to be a goalie — a passion that began when he first started playing the position as a wee 6-year old.
“There’s nothing I can do about people thinking I am too small,” he said matter of factly. “I just want to keep getting better and playing my best to try to help my team win.
“I work on my quickness as much as possible,” Zeppa continued, “because that is huge when you are small.”
As a minor midget goalie on a first-year team in a nine-team league dominated by six major midget squads, Zeppa said he hopes to attract the attention of the scouts and become an OHL draft pick in 2018.
“That’s my goal,” he said. “I want to get drafted into the OHL and play in the OHL. If that doesn’t happen my Plan B would be to try to play university hockey.”
Zeppa has family bloodlines on his side when it comes to high-level hockey.
An older cousin, John Parco, was an OHL scoring star with the erstwhile Belleville Bulls from 1998 to 1991 who went on to become a world-class, championship player and coach in Italy.
Parco is now in his first season as coach of the NOJHL Soo Thunderbirds and trains Zeppa and others through his Superior Sports Training facility.
Zeppa is also a cousin to Nick Porco, a 16-year old rookie forward in the OHL who was a first round draft pick of the Saginaw Spirit in 2017.
“John helps me with my cardio at his training facility and he has been a big help to me,” Zeppa pointed out.
As for hopefully joining cousin Nick in the OHL at some point, Zeppa was quick to reply.
“I would love that,” he gushed.