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Choosing hockey has proven right path for Copp

by Adam Kimelman / Winnipeg Jets

If you look in the high-school record books for the state of Michigan, you'll find Andrew Copp's name right at the top.

But don't look for the Winnipeg Jets prospect and United States national junior team hopeful in the state's hockey record book. No, for Copp, a native of Ann Arbor, Mich., you have to flip through the state football record book.

And there, at the top of the listings for most passing yards and passing touchdowns in a single game, you'll see Andrew Copp, senior, Skyline High School.

In a game Sept. 23, 2011, against cross-town rival Pioneer High School, Copp threw for a state-record 557 yards and seven touchdowns, but his team lost 52-49.

The Winnipeg Jets selected Andrew Copp in the fourth round (No. 104) at the 2013 NHL Draft. (Photo: Bill Wippert/NHLI)

"I threw two interceptions that got tipped," Copp told "It was a heartbreaker. We scored with two minutes left, they drove down the field and scored with 30 seconds. We had two Hail Mary's that got tipped and we couldn't come down with it. Especially against our cross-town rivals, it was heartbreaking."

Copp's season would get bone-breaking a week later.

Copp's class had been the first ones through Skyline High, and as the starting quarterback for all four years, Senior Night already was an emotional affair. The emotions took a whole different path in the second quarter.

"I was running upfield," he said. "It was a designed quarterback run. I got blindsided, drove my (right) shoulder right into the ground."

Copp broke his right collarbone on the play, ending not only his football season, but his football career.

As a junior, Copp had joined the United States National Team Development Program. One of the rules of the program is that the players -- who, ironically, attend Pioneer High School -- can't play any sports at the school. However, USNTDP officials made an exception for Copp so he could keep playing football at Skyline and then join the USNTDP after football season.

He managed to excel in both sports as a junior in high school, totaling five points in 24 games with the USNTDP under-17 team, and one goal in six games with the under-18 team.

"I love football and I love hockey," he said. "It was kind of easy to put in that hard work. It was hard, going to school, then go to hockey, lift, then go back to football practice. I didn't have much time to do anything else, especially during the week, but it was worth it. I'll have memories I'll never forget."

Before his senior year, however, Copp knew he had to decide on sticking with one sport only.

"Before my senior year, you need to decide what you're going to do," he said. "So I kind of knew that football has been fun, it's going to be fun for this last year, but hockey is where it's going to be."

And then with one play, football and hockey were gone.

He missed nearly three months recovering from the injury, and played his first hockey game Dec. 31 -- a happy new year, indeed.

It got happier, as Copp had five goals and six assists in nine games with the U-17 team and six points in 23 games with the U-18 team. He also earned a gold medal with the United States at the 2012 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, contributing one assist in games while leading the tournament with a 65.38-percent success rate on faceoffs.

While he was successful in a fourth-line role for the U-18 team and at the World U-18s, it wasn't enough for an NHL team to select him at the 2012 NHL Draft.

"My under-18 year, I came into the U.S. program and they needed a shut-down, fourth-line faceoff/penalty kill guy," Copp said. "That's all I needed to be for them and that's what I was and I thought I was pretty good at it. At the same time, that's not what's going to get you drafted. I didn't do enough to impress."

While NHL teams weren't interested, the University of Michigan was, and Copp shined as a freshman. After a slow start, he finished with 11 goals and 21 points in 38 games.

"At Michigan I got more of an opportunity offensively, so I was able to showcase both ends of my game," Copp said. "I ended up playing first-line center for the last two-thirds of the year, whatever it was. Also got some penalty-kill time, some power-play time. I was able to showcase all the different parts of my game."

Suddenly NHL teams started taking notice, and the Winnipeg Jets selected Copp in the fourth round (No. 104) at the 2013 draft.

"You try to go into it with an open mind," Copp said of going through the draft process a second time. "Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. You can't control anything from there. You just try to enjoy the moment. I knew I'd be in that third- to fifth-round area. Winnipeg was a team that was very interested in me."

Copp already has had a taste of the hockey in Winnipeg at the team's summer development camp and certainly enjoyed what he saw.

"It was fun and their fans were awesome," he said. "Every practice we had was jam-packed. It was a lot of fun. I can't wait to be out there."

First, though, he's hoping for a trip to the 2014 World Junior Championship. He'll have to have another strong season at Michigan, and find a way to change another record -- helping Michigan get back to the NCAA Tournament after the Wolverines had their 22-year tournament run snapped.

"I want to stay at Michigan," he said. "It's something I've always wanted to do since I was 3 or 4 years old. We have a lot of unfinished business there as far as last year and ending the streak. We have some stuff to take care of before I go anywhere else."

Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

Author: Adam Kimelman | Deputy Managing Editor

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