IceDogs winger ready to lead
Juan Copeland is suddenly a veteran.
The Michigan native doesn’t turn 18 until next week, but thanks to an overabundance of trades and natural turnover, is now the longest serving member of the Niagara IceDogs.
“It’s kind of like a snap of the finger, being a rookie and veterans teaching you how to play and to do the right things. Now it’s my role and hopefully being a leader, someone the coaches and other guys can look to for something special, especially after being here for three years,” Copeland said Wednesday during Day 2 of IceDogs training camp at Meridian Centre.
Copeland was selected by the IceDogs in the second round (22nd overall) of the 2021 Ontario Hockey League draft. He and defenceman Andrew Wycisk, who made his debut that season as well, are the lone players remaining in the organization after Declan Waddick was traded last week.
Copeland appreciated the way older players mentored him during his rookie season and is committed to paying it forward.
“I think guys being supportive and being your friend is the biggest thing,” he said. “It makes you comfortable and makes you play the right way.”
Copeland collected 12 goals and 22 points in his rookie season and followed it up with a 10-goal, 21-point season last year.
Niagara coach Ryan Kuwabara feels Copeland has room to grow.
“Just to elevate his game a little bit, to compete, just continue his path to improve. A lot of little things but he’s had a great summer, it looks like,” Kuwabara said when asked for his expectations for Copeland.
Copeland, who has shown he can handle himself physically, could fill a couple of roles for the team this season.
“He can be a scorer, depending on who’s he playing with, and he can be a two-way guy, depending on who he’s playing with,” Kuwabara said. “For him, he has to understand what his role in on that line and push to excel and push the pace with the other guys to make them better.”
Copeland is well aware of the need to play on both sides of the puck.
“It’s important because the younger guys look up to that. If a younger guys watches you being just an offensive guy, then they’re just going be offensive,” he said. “I’m just trying to be better and hopefully get to an NHL camp but mostly trying to help my team win. That’s what I’m more worried about. Just simply playing the game.”
Copeland likes the atmosphere so far around the rink following last season’s troubles.
“It’s a lot of new guys. Definitely feels a lot more connected and a little bit closer and not as negative,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is you’re here to play hockey, no matter what happens, no matters what trades go on. That’s the main focus of what you have to do.”
Copeland could be in line for an assistant captain’s A or perhaps even the captain’s C this season.
“That will evolve naturally,” Kuwabara said. “I’m not going to put any extra pressure on anybody to be a leader right off the hop but as an older guy, it’s by design. It’s the age and you’re going to be a little more experienced.”
The IceDogs continue camp with practices Thursday and Friday before hosting the Peterborough Petes Saturday at 7 p.m. to open the pre-season.
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