Every man who makes it to the NHL busts their ass to get there, but sometimes the journey isn’t quite as cut and dry as getting drafted and a few years later playing in the big leagues. Sometimes players take an alternate route that ends up crafting a fairytale by the time they suit up for their first NHL game.
Rob Zepp was a standout goaltender with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL. He was named the CHL’s Scholastic Player of the Year during his rookie season in 1998-99. His stellar play led to him being drafted 99th overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in 1999.
The following year, he kept his strong play in Plymouth for his sophomore season, ultimately recording the lowest goals against average in the league with .238. Before the 2000-01 season, Zepp was named captain of the Whalers, the first CHL goaltender to ever earn the title.
He never signed a contract with the Thrashers and re-entered the 2001 NHL draft, this time being selected 110th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes.
He was sent to the ECHL for the 2001-02 season and would spend a bulk of the next four seasons with the Florida Everblades with rare spot starts coming in the AHL. Between the arrival of Cam Ward and the lockout forcing NHL-caliber players to the AHL, the writing was on the wall that his chances of success were starting to dwindle.
He left North America for the 2005-06 season and landed in the Finnish Liiga. Zepp played two seasons for SaiPa before signing a contract in his native Germany with the Eisbären Berlin of the DEL. He’d reside in Berlin from 2007 to 2014.
During his time in Germany, he represented the country internationally at three World Championships in 2010, 2013 and 2014. In 2010 Germany made it to the semi-finals and finished fourth, in 2013 Germany finished 9th, and 2014 saw a 14th place finish.
When the 2012-13 NHL lockout hit, he would unknowingly be joined by future teammate Claude Giroux on Eisbären when he and Danny Briere signed there for the duration of the lockout.
All in all, Zepp backstopped Eisbären to secure five DEL championships in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
On July 1, 2014 Rob Zepp punched his ticket to return to North America when he signed a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers organization. Starting with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, he earned his first NHL recall on December 19, 2014, and two days later, at the age of 33, played his first NHL game, recording his first ever NHL win beating the Winnipeg Jets saving 25 of 28 shots. He became the oldest goaltender to win in his debut in almost 100 years when Hugh Lehman won his at 41 years old in 1926. A few years later emergency goaltender David Ayres would set the new record at 42 years old.
Due to assorted injuries to normal starters Steve Mason and Ray Emery, Zepp would get nine more games on NHL action over the following few months posting a 5-2-0 record and 2.89 goals against average and .888 save percentage in 10 total games.
Zepp is top-three in pretty much every category for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms including games played (43), wins (21), and saves (1353), and is technically first in both save percentage (.917) and goals against average (2.68).
Due to his awesome story, he had the respect of the Flyers’ faithful, earning the nickname “Zeppadelphia.”
Today, He currently works within the NHLPA as a sports industry strategist. He was a key part in focusing on goaltender safety when the league regulated and reduced the size of goalie’s equipment.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)