October 29, 2015

John Jakopin

John Jakopin was a towering defenseman out of little known Merrimack College. He was joined on the blue line there by an even bigger future NHLer in 6'8" Steve McKenna.

Standing 6'5" and weighing 240lbs, Jakopin intimidated with his size even though he was not naturally an aggressive player. Off the ice he was the most affable person you would ever hope to find. Over time he learned to his size to his advantage and to embrace the physical game at the right times.

Playing at Merrimack, while also earning a degree in marketing, allowed him to develop his all around skills and emerge as a late bloomer. At his best he was capable of being a smart, stay-at-home defender with surprising mobility.

The college route allowed Jakopin to adjust to his body. As a 15 year old Jakopin grew 8 inches in seven months.  The growth spurt actually required surgery to repair his knee as a bone popped out at that time. He overcame that challenge and found his game.

``I'm not a fancy hockey player, and I'm not supposed to be,'' Jakopin said. ``If I can get the puck and move it up, I'm getting the first part of my job done. The other is to play tough, take the front of the net out and finish my checks in the corner. I've learned that that's the basic ingredient for me to be successful and contribute in a positive way.''

He learned pretty early on that he had to slim down to improve his skating even more.

"I always concentrated on size before, but I realized carrying all that weight, with the poor ice in (the NHL), really rips up your body. I feel quicker now, plus my power comes from my legs, so I don't feel I've lost any strength."

But, at his huge size, he knew he would have to do more than just be a physical presence if he hoped to play in the big leagues.

``You can't fight in college, so I knew I would have to get some experience,'' Jakopin said. ``Peter Worrell came to me and said, `Let's go.' And I did. He's a seasoned player and fighter, so I would practice with him and learn a lot. It was the best way to learn. I worked hard this summer and I think after getting a year of pros, it gave me a different perspective on the game. It's a completely different game than college.''

The Detroit Red Wings drafted the Toronto native 97th overall in 1993 and allowed to sign as a free agent with Florida after graduation. He would go on to play 113 NHL games over the next several years, mostly with the Panthers, including most of the 2000-01 season.

Jakopin would go on to play briefly in Pittsburgh (acquired off waivers when the Penguins lost Janne Laukkanen and Hans Jonsson to injury) and San Jose, but would miss most of the 2002-03 season with concussion problems. It all but ended his career, though he did return for another season in the AHL and a short appearance in Slovenia.

Jakopin, who had a twin sister compete at the triathlon world championships was always interested in more than just hockey. As a pro rookie in New Haven back in 1997-98 he was named as the AHL's Man of the Year due to his community contributions.

Jakopin has settled in Fort Lauderdale and become a medical devices salesman.

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