It may have taken 13 years, but Rob Zepp finally has his first NHL win.
The 33-year-old goaltender picked up his first NHL victory in his very first start, getting the nod to man the Philadelphia Flyers goal for their Sunday evening game against the Winnipeg Jets following an injury to Steve Mason on Friday. Because of the Flyers schedule – the team played back-to-back nights on the road – Zepp got the call over fellow Flyers goaltender Ray Emery.
In his NHL debut, Zepp turned aside 25 shots and helped get Philadelphia to overtime. Jakub Voracek scored ten seconds into the extra frame to give the Flyers the 4-3 win and journeyman netminder his first victory.
What makes Zepp’s win so incredible is the road he took to get there – a long, winding journey that spans two NHL drafts, four leagues, three countries, and two continents.
Zepp was a fourth-round draft pick of the Atlanta Thrashers, coincidentally the same franchise against which he picked up his first win, in 1999, but after failing to receive a contract he reentered the draft in 2001. He was then selected again in the fourth round, this time by the Carolina Hurricanes.
But the NHL always stayed far away. Throughout his stay in the Carolina organization, Zepp wouldn’t even get close to big league action, playing a mere seven games in the AHL and spending the majority of his stint with the Canes splitting time in the ECHL.
After the 2004-05 season came to a close, Zepp went overseas, signing a deal with SaiPa of Finland’s SM-Liiga. It wasn’t until 2007-08, however, that his career really took off.
To begin the 2007-08 season, Zepp inked a deal with the DEL’s Eisbaren Berlin, and he had been there ever since. Last season, Zepp posted a 24-14 record with a .931 save percentage. With Zepp as their go-to guy in goal, Berlin captured the league title five times, with the most recent victory coming in 2012-13. In 2014, the Newmarket, Ont. native actually represented Germany at the World Championship.
After eight years in Germany, it came to an end, however. On July 1, Zepp signed a one-year deal that brought him to the Flyers and his dream of the NHL was back in sight.
“I went over to Europe with the intention of coming back and everyday I've worked with that goal in mind,” Zepp told Randy Miller of NJ.com in September. "I tried to not prepare to just be successful over there, but to try be successful over here one day and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity now and see where it leads."
As of Sunday night, it has led Zepp to a milestone he probably thought he might never reach: his first NHL win.