How a small-town B.C. hockey player became one of the NHL’s top agents

Kevin-Epp-poses-with-the-Stanley-Cup

NHL player agent Kevin Epp (second from right), poses with clients Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky, and Burakovsky's father, Robert, after the Washington Capitals won the 2018 Stanley Cup. (Courtesy of Kevin Epp)

Of course Kevin Epp has a fish story. He grew up playing hockey in Prince Rupert — everyone on B.C.’s North Coast has a fish story.

“Probably the worst story of my life,” Epp, now an NHL player agent, begins. “When I was 14 or 15, almost all my friends, their dads were commercial fisherman, and they’d go out in the summer as deckhands. You could make $20,000 … $40,000 in a summer if you had a good sockeye run.

“I went out one summer. We were fishing for pink salmon. You had to earn your stripes on the pink run before you got the sockeye run. So we went out past the Charlottes (Haida Gwaii) and I got seasick. I got sea lice all over my arms. They had to send the Coast Guard out for me. The captain of the boat wanted to throw me overboard, and I made nothing. We caught a lot of fish, but pink was going for 10 cents a pound. I think I made $100. Worst week of my life.”

So it turns out Epp was not a fisherman. But he had never thought of the sea as a long-term career option — he wanted to be a professional hockey player.

And while that dream never materialized into an NHL contract of his own, you wouldn’t know it by the company he now keeps. As an NHL agent, Epp negotiates deals for the likes of Arizona Coyotes blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson and San Jose Sharks netminder Martin Jones.

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Epp’s winding journey began at five years old when he moved from Cranbrook to Prince Rupert — where Rogers Hometown Hockey makes a stop this weekend — because his dad, Barry, got a job at the pulp mill. One of Barry’s co-workers was Rod Brind’Amour’s father, but that family soon moved to Campbell River, another pulp and fishing hub, on Vancouver Island.

Starting in 1979, Epp spent 10 years playing in the Prince Rupert Minor Hockey Association. The nearest town, Terrace, was a 90-minute drive. The nearest city, Prince George, was about eight hours away.

“When I lived there, it was a booming community,” Epp, 45, says of ‘Rupert.’ “There was a lot going on with the commercial fishery, the grain terminal, the pulp mill. We used to call it the cosmopolitan city of the north.

“But it was really isolated. It was great memories but long travel (for hockey games). You couldn’t move on in hockey if you didn’t leave there at a pretty young age. And if you moved away to play anywhere, your parents would hardly see you because you had to go so far away. Over the last 40 years, there’s probably only been four or five guys who went on to play junior, and only one or two guys who played a bit of pro.”

Forwards Robin Gomez and Mike Kiesman had minor-league careers, mostly in the East Coast League, after leaving Prince Rupert for the WHL. Defenceman Mark McCoy spent a decade in lower-level professional leagues in Europe.

Epp left Prince Rupert in 1989 when he was 15 and lived with his grandparents in Cranbrook so he could play bantam hockey there. Hockey Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer was a year older than Epp and just leaving to play for the Kamloops Blazers.

A defenceman, Epp eventually made it to the B.C. Junior League and earned a scholarship to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

After graduating with a business degree, he played parts of three semi-pro seasons in the old West Coast Hockey League, which was absorbed by the ECHL in 2003. His last team was the 2000-01 Phoenix Mustangs. By then, Epp was starting a career as an agent in Arizona, working part-time for a law firm that represented several baseball players and was trying to get into hockey.

His job was to recruit potential clients coming out of Canadian junior leagues. Epp saw an opportunity to start his own agency, partnered with Jarret Bousquet — an old buddy from Cranbrook — and founded Titan Sports Management in 2001.

Niedermayer, a life-long friend and Kamloops teammate of Bousquet, became an early client and gave the fledgling firm instant credibility.

Along with Ekman-Larsson and Jones, Epp’s current client list is headlined by Jakob Silfverberg, Andreas Johnsson and Andre Burakovsky. Now based in North Vancouver, he also represents Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen and several other NHL players from B.C.

So, if you think about it, Epp did eventually land some pretty big fish. But after that terrible week three decades ago, he never went commercial fishing again.

“When we came back in (to port) to drop me off, they said: ‘Well, do you know anyone else?’” Epp says. “So I recommended my buddy. He went out on the sockeye run and made $25,000.”

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