Josh Lepp’s idea of ‘flying’ certainly has changed over the years.
As a goaltender in the Western Hockey League for five years, Lepp faced plenty of ‘flying’ rubber and skaters ‘flying’ up and down the ice while he tried to keep pucks from ‘flying’ into his net.
Now, the 25-year-old Saskatoon, Sask., product is the one doing the flying in a more traditional sense as the captain of a Beechcraft King Air 200 aircraft.
“It’s a great job,” said Lepp, who has spent the last two years working for West Wind Aviation, a Saskatoon-based company that provides charter, scheduled and medivac services.
“We provide a majority of our services to the resource sector in northern Saskatchewan and Nunavut,” he said. “A typical day could be flying a scheduled flight to the northern communities of Saskatchewan, or providing a charter flight to anywhere the customer needs to be. I could fly as far north as Canada's Arctic region one day, then have a trip south to the U.S. the next day.
“It is a great experience seeing the diversity of Canada's landscape, as well as getting to know the people we fly and communities we fly to,” added Lepp.
Flying planes for a living is a far cry from making a living as a hockey player.
So, how does one go from a career stopping flying hockey pucks to a career flying planes to some of Canada’s most remote locations?
Lepp’s interest in flying developed at a young age as a few of his family members had obtained private pilot licenses. Lepp would go up in his uncle’s Cessna and they’d check out the family farm and surrounding area from the air. The experience was enjoyable enough that Lepp decided to pursue a license of his own.
Yet, a career as a pilot would only emerge as an option after he decided to enroll in school following his graduation from the Western Hockey League. Having accumulated five years worth of WHL scholarship funds, Lepp saw an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“After completing five years in the WHL, I joined the Colorado Eagles of the CHL for their playoff run in 2006,” said Lepp, who played for the Kelowna Rockets, Seattle Thunderbirds, Moose Jaw Warriors and Red Deer Rebels during his WHL tenure, and helped the Rockets win the 2003 WHL championship.
“However, during that summer, I realized that utilizing my scholarship was the best option for me,” he said. “I chose to attend the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science & Technology (SIAST) in Saskatoon, and enrolled in the Commercial Pilot program.
“After graduating with distinction in January of 2008, I was hired by West Wind Aviation.”
Having the WHL scholarship to help him finance his education was instrumental in getting Lepp to where he is today. He feels that, without the assistance from the WHL, he may have taken a different path.
“The WHL, especially (WHL director of education services) Jim Donlevy, played a large role in assisting me with the transition of high school in different provinces as well as the move to post-secondary education,” said Lepp.
“Mr. Donlevy took the time to make sure everything I needed to succeed with my education was taken care of. I had no problems in having the same scholarship opportunities in the program I selected as players choosing a more generic university program. The WHL definitely provided the best option, whether it be the pursuit of a professional hockey career, or post secondary scholarship.
“Without the financial assistance, and life skills learned in the WHL, my professional pilot career would probably not have been possible,” he said.
Of course, hockey is still a big part of Lepp’s life. He still plays and does some coaching in and around Saskatoon. Having lived his dream of playing in the Western Hockey League, Lepp holds many fond memories of his five years playing in one of the world’s best development leagues.
“Kelowna was a great organization, and being a part of the WHL championship team in 2003 was a great experience,” said Lepp. “Shutting out the Everett Silvertips in their first Teddy Bear Toss night in front of a sold out rink is another fun memory; Warriors and Pats games; Rockets and Blazers games; the overall memories of five seasons traveling through Western Canada and the U.S. is something that was large in shaping me as a person preparing for life beyond hockey.”