Andrew Copp walked around the large crowd during Skyline’s opening football game last month with a big smile and in relative obscurity. Few in the stands realized that a professional hockey player was sitting there joining them in cheering on the mighty Eagles.
Copp, who played quarterback for the Eagles back in the day and now plays center for the Winnipeg Jets in the NHL, was in Skyline’s first graduating class in 2012.
“I like to come back when I can,” he said, taking a few minutes during halftime to talk to the “press.” “I don’t know as many people as I used to. But I played football all four years and certainly still feel a connection to Skyline. I loved my four years here.”
And Copp, who didn’t mind one bit not being recognized, wouldn’t get away with that in Winnipeg. But on this night he was just a Skyline alum back home rooting for his Alma-matter to win a football game.
“Yeah, in Winnipeg you get recognized pretty much anywhere whether it’s a restaurant or grocery store,” said Copp, a fourth-round pick (104th overall) in 2013 by the Jets. “It’s cool though. You want to have passionate fans and Winnipeg certainly does.”
The 6-foot-1, 205 pound center decided to forgo his senior year with the Michigan Wolverines, calling the decision one of the most difficult of his young life.
“My dream growing up wasn’t to play in the NHL it was to go to Michigan,” he said. “I loved my time there and wouldn’t trade it for anything. But the opportunity (to get drafted) presented itself and I felt it was too good to pass up at the time. I lost sleep for a few nights trying to figure it all out and it would have been awesome to play my senior year. But looking back, it was the right decision.”
Copp, who had 40 goals and 41 assists for the Maize and Blue, left for the NHL with many fond memories playing for the Wolverines.
“My GLI (Great Lakes Invitational) championship my junior year was awesome,” he said. “We were missing some key guys and we weren’t really favored by anyone so that was a big win. My first home game against Ohio State when we won in overtime was pretty special. Those are among the two big highlights.”
U-M won the GLI in both 2014 and 2015.
Copp is heading into his third season in the NHL with big expectations on his shoulders.
“It’s been great,” said Copp of his adjustment to the NHL. “I know a lot more what to expect on and off the ice. I know how hard I have to work and how to train and prepare for the season. I think I’m becoming more important to the team and I’m really excited about this season. I think we will have a really good team.”
Copp, now 23, signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Jets on March 26, 2015. He played his first NHL game on April 11, 2015 and earned an assist. The following season (2015-16), Copp played 77 games with the Jets and had seven goals and six assists.
He played 64 games last year with the Jets and had nine goals and eight assists. He also spent some time in Manitoba in the AHL. He had five assists in eight games with the Moose.
“That was the beginning of last year and they wanted me to work on my offense,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to being a big contributor on the team this year.”
The first two lines for the Jets are pretty much set, with Patrick Laine, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele considered among the best in the NHL. Copp finds himself fighting for a spot on the fourth line with the Jets, who have struggled in the preseason for whatever that is worth these days.
One thing he has going for him is his contract. This being his third year of his deal will make it difficult for the club to send him down to the AHL.
“It’s all about the team,” he said. “If we are winning that’s all that matters. I have some personal goals but the biggest goal is for the team to make the playoffs and from there anything can happen.”
Before playing for the Wolverines, Copp spent two seasons with the U.S. National Development Team in the USHL. In his 40 games, he had four goals and 11 assists. He also played with Compuware.