Growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Winnipeg Jets forward Andrew Copp had two dreams: to represent the United States with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program (NTDP) and play college hockey at the University of Michigan.
The NTDP was based in Copp’s hometown from the program’s inception in 1996 until moving a short distance to nearby Plymouth in 2014-15. The University of Michigan, of course, is and always will be located in Ann Arbor, and having that kind of high-level hockey so close was impressionable to a young Copp at the time.
“It’s kind of living out a dream, and you take it step-by-step,” Copp said. “When I was younger, I wanted to make the U.S. team, and once you make the U.S. team, you start to worry about colleges. Then, when I was at Michigan, I started worrying about the next level. I guess, growing up in Ann Arbor, it was always a dream to end up at Michigan, so luckily it all worked out.”
Copp represented the U.S. at the 2017 IIHF Men's World Championship
It wasn’t easy for Copp, who initially turned down his dream to play at the NTDP because he was a standout high school football player and two-time all-state quarterback at then-new Skyline High School.
“Turning it down kind of [stunk],” Copp said. “I couldn’t do it at the time, just because it was a new school, we were all juniors, I was a captain and a starting quarterback for three years … I just couldn’t leave them high and dry.”
Fortunately for Copp, he earned another opportunity to join the NTDP, and he didn’t turn this one down. He had to work for his dream though, balancing both high school football and the NTDP.
“Being able to play football and hockey, it was a lot of sacrifice, not only by me, but my parents and the U.S. program,” Copp said. “I’m thankful to them for giving me the opportunity, and it just kind of worked its way from there. There was a lot of hard work and sacrifice from a lot of people, not just me.”
Copp spent time with the NTDP between the U.S. National Under-17 and Under-18 teams during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. He scored five goals and six assists in 35 games with the U17s and five points in 24 games with the U18 squad.
Copp was also a member of the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team that won a fourth straight gold medal at the 2012 International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Men’s World Championship.
“We had a great group of guys kind of accepting me for my spot on the team and that was really cool by them because I wasn’t there every day,” Copp said. “We were a pretty tight-knit group.”
The situation wasn’t easy, playing football and hockey at the same time, but Copp made it work. He occasionally missed class to practice with the NTDP and, other times, had to leave practices early to get across town in time for high school football.
“My teachers and coaches on both sides were really accommodating,” Copp said. “I loved every second of it, and I wish I could go back and do it again. It was that much fun.”
But things took a sudden turn when Copp broke his collarbone while playing football. That was the moment when he chose hockey over football.
“At that time, I thought it was probably the last time I’ll ever play football,” Copp said. “It was fun while it lasted, but I was just a lot more comfortable where I was at hockey-wise.”
That broken collarbone Copp eventually suffered set his full-time hockey career in motion.
“I didn’t play a game until Jan. 1, which is not the way you want to plan out your draft year and before you go to school,” Copp said.
Copp went on to become a fourth-round draft pick of the Jets in 2013, and made his NHL debut in 2015.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.