DETROIT, Michigan -- Andrew Copp has had this date circled on his calendar for a while.
Tonight, the native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and an alumnus of the University of Michigan, plays his first pro game at Joe Louis Arena when the Winnipeg Jets (27-34-5) take on the Detroit Red Wings (32-23-11). It’s a place he’s been coming to since he was a kid.
“It’s going to be fun. A lot of family and friends are coming out for it. I’m pretty familiar with the building,” Copp said. “But obviously it’s the first pro game, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
The knowledge Copp and teammate Jacob Trouba (also a University of Michigan alumnus) have of Joe Louis Arena dates back to state championship wins when the two were 13-years-old.
That knowledge is key, as Joe Louis Arena has a distinct characteristic to be aware of.
“We’ve got to watch some of the things (Detroit does) here at home, especially with the boards,” said Trouba. “We learned out there this morning they’re a little bit of different boards.”
“The boards are really bouncy. I don’t think there’s really anything like it in the NHL. I played six games here last year with Michigan, and probably at least 10 before that,” Copp added. “I’m pretty familiar with the rink, so I guess that gives me a little bit of an advantage knowing the rink and what not.”
In Copp’s final season with Michigan, he had a teammate very familiar to Detroit Red Wings fans: Dylan Larkin. The Red Wings speedy forward and Copp finished second and third on the team in scoring in 2014-2015, and Copp looks forward to any opportunity to match up against his friend tonight.
“I’m really excited to play against him. This will be our second time. We had a lot of fun in Winnipeg,” said Copp. “I’m not sure how much we’ll be on the ice together tonight, maybe some power play and penalty kill time, but I’ll try and get in his face a little bit and just try to mess around with him.”
Copp has seen an increase in penalty kill responsibility in recent weeks. A big reason for that, according to Maurice, is Copp’s development in the face off circle. Only twice in that last eight games has Copp not won at least 50 percent of his face offs.
“His face offs have improved, so we can use him on the penalty kill and that keeps him in a better rhythm for the game, so he’s looking a little bit quicker,” said Maurice. “I think both (Matt) Halischuk and (JC) Lipon have had a real positive effect, that pace that they play at, he’s learning to play at that pro pace.”
Winnipeg won this season’s earlier meeting with the Red Wings 4-1 back on Dec. 29 at MTS Centre. Trouba scored twice in that match up, and has four points in three career games against Detroit.
He says he’s trying to put aside the emotion of coming back to his home state.
“It’s nice just to see some family and some friends,” said Trouba. “I’m trying not to treat it too differently than any other road trip. Just come in, do what we’ve got to do, and head on out.”
Like the Jets, the Red Wings are coming off a loss on Tuesday night. While Winnipeg dropped a 4-2 decision to Nashville, Detroit’s 5-3 loss to Columbus was their third in a row.
The skid has Detroit clinging to a two-point lead for the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.
“Things haven’t gone the way they’ve wanted to in the last three, and that playoff picture tightens up,” said Maurice. “You’ve got at least two of the finest leaders in sports sitting in that locker room. So you know they’re coming tonight. They know they have to win. On their calendar, this is a must win game for them.
“At times you’re looking to use that to your advantage. But I’m not sure with Zetterberg and Datsyuk having the final say before they go on the ice, that there will be much of an advantage there.”
The puck drops at Joe Louis Arena at 6:30 pm CT.