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Professional Hockey: Persistent Lepkowski inks minor league deal with Sabres

Alex Lepkowski spent two-plus seasons with Barrie of the OHL, before signing a minor league deal with the Sabres and facing the local media (left) last week. (Photos courtesy of Barrie Colts and Buffalo Sabres)

Alex Lepkowski is nothing if not persistent. It’s a trait he picked up from his father, Ziggy Lepkowski. And now it’s paid off with a pro hockey contract.

Lepkowski, a 20-year-old native of West Seneca, experienced the next big step in his path to the National Hockey League when he signed a minor league contract with his hometown Buffalo Sabres to play for Rochester of the American Hockey League.

“It was awesome to stay with the organization and stay in the area,” said Lepkowski, a former player at St. Francis High School, after Day Two of the Sabres Development Camp that was held July 10-12 at the First Niagara Center. “The development that they’re putting in, in Rochester, is going to be great and I’m excited to be part of that.”

Originally drafted by the Sabres in the fifth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Lepkowski, a 6-foot-4, 202 pound defenseman, went unsigned during the two-year window he and Buffalo had to strike a deal.

After taking part in the Sabres Development Camps in 2011 and the next year, Lepkowski wound up reentering last month’s draft. He went undrafted but was thrilled when the Sabres came calling with not only another invite to Development Camp, but a contract with his name on it.

“I actually signed earlier in the week,” said Lepkowski, a veteran blueliner for the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League. “I kind of knew going in, they just hadn’t announced it yet. It was exciting to get something done. There was a lot of waiting, hemming and hawing leading up to the reentry into the draft. Afterwards, it was just such a relief to say I’m (with a team) and tell my family what’s going on.”

The chance to play for the Amerks doesn’t just represent a major step in Lepkowski’s road to the NHL, it also means something much deeper to Alex and his family.

Alex’s father and No.1 fan, Ziggy, will now be able to see his boy play more often. The elder Lepkowski sustained injuries in a car accident that made it a struggle to travel to Alex’s OHL games last season.

“My dad, not too long ago, had a serious car accident,” Lepkowski explained. “So, for him to get back and forth to Barrie was tough at times. Rochester should be a lot better.”

An old school, tough-as-nails type of guy, Ziggy has also perfectly illustrated the Lepkowski family trait of persistence by making positive strides in his road to recovery.

“If you saw him now, and didn’t know about the accident, you probably never would have guessed (what happened),” said Alex Lepkowski.

His influence has rubbed off on Alex, who once logged time with the St. Francis prep hockey team, coming off recording nine assists and 78 penalty minutes in 60 games last season.

With one year of eligibility in Juniors remaining, it looked as if time was starting to slip through the hour glass of Lepkowski’s pro career. But while the odds may have been stacking up against him, Lepkowski never lost faith that he could make it in hockey. If the Sabres had not offered a contract, he would have simply dusted himself off and kept on going.

“I would have just reevaluated my options as it came up,” Lepkowski said. “I probably would have gone to someone else’s camp...It’s tough to say. I’m just really excited to be with Rochester.”

Building his game one step at a time, Lepkowski said having the chance to take part in three consecutive Sabre Development Camps gave him the chance to not only up his game by playing against solid competition, it also afforded him the chance to define what his game would be at the pro level.

“I think, more than anything, it’s shown me where I need to be for my role and developing kind of a niche and trying to play that niche to the best of my ability,” he said.

Now, based in the Flower City, the entire Lepkowski clan will more often have the chance to get to see just how far Alex’s game has come along. And Alex Lepkowski is more than OK with that.

“Yeah it should be fun,” Lepkowski said with a smile. “Hopefully (my) family comes out and watches. It’ll be nice to see them in the stands.”


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