Benjamin Cope is a young hockey player who continues to play the game with hopes of taking his talents to higher levels.
Cope was on the baseball roster of DeSoto Central High School a couple of years ago, but has always played hockey to pursue his goals, both scoring goals and the goal of using his skating skills to take him further along in his career.
This week, Cope will head to Albuquerque, New Mexico to try out for the New Mexico Ice Wolves, a franchise in the USA Hockey Tier II North American Hockey League (NAHL).
The Ice Wolves are new to the NAHL, which is a league of players age 21 and under. The NAHL and its Tier I rival United States Hockey League are regularly scouted by colleges and the NHL for new and upcoming talent.
Cope hopes his opportunity will help lead him in that direction.
“That’s definitely the goal, to play college one day,” Cope said this week during a break in his workouts at the Mid-South Ice House in Olive Branch. “That’s been my dream ever since I was a little kid, to play Division I or Division III college hockey. I want to play college and get a good education. If it happens, also play pro somewhere.”
Cope has been around hockey his entire life, as his father at one time worked with the old Cincinnati Mighty Ducks of the American Hockey League as an off-ice official.
“I was on my first skates at age two-and-a-half and started playing hockey at age four in my local program,” Cope said. “I’ve been on the ice ever since.”
Cope’s family moved to DeSoto County in 2015 and he started playing travel hockey, but had to travel to places like Huntsville and Decatur, Alabama. Cope also played in the high school program for Germantown, Tennessee and Christian Brothers High School, even though he was attending DeSoto Central.
Last season, Cope turned to go into the junior ranks and joined a Tier III team in Evansville, Indiana, the Junior Thunderbolts of the NA3HL. He played 13 games and scored two goals for four points to go with 10 penalty minutes before being sent to Lafayette, Louisiana, the home of the Louisiana Drillers of the same league.
That’s where he finished the season with 10 goals, 17 points and 10 penalty minutes. Cope also played in two playoff games with the Drillers, but failed to score in those two appearances.
It was while playing in the NAHL Combine in Michigan that Ice Wolves’ coach Phil Fox saw him in action.
“I played a pretty good game and he called me to invite me to the main camp,” Cope said.
If Cope makes the roster, he’ll be playing a schedule that’ll run from mid-September through early April, before playoffs even start. New Mexico is part of the NAHL South Division, and Cope would play against teams in cities that at one time were in the Central Hockey League against the now-defunct Mississippi RiverKings. Amarillo, Corpus Christi, Odessa, Lone Star in Texas and Shreveport, Louisiana comprise the division, along with Topeka, Kansas and the New Mexico Ice Wolves.
A junior hockey player’s season includes practice and playing, but high-school age players also go to school while they live with housing parents, also called billet families.
“It’s really rewarding because you meet so many great guys,” Cope said. “This past year, we had two kids from Russia, one from Finland and one originally from Mexico. It’s really diverse, and you get to know about their culture.”
Cope is now continuing to pursue the puck and pursue his chance to play a game he loves and plays well. It’s a sport most of his friends back home may know little about.
“I’d tell my friends I was going to Alabama for the weekend to play hockey, so I couldn’t go with them to see the Friday night football game,” Cope said. “They would look at me like I had two heads. They’ve never been to a hockey game, they had only heard about it and never experienced a game. It’s definitely different, coming from the Cincinnati area where everybody has been to a hockey game and everybody skated.”
We’ll hope the “puck luck” is with Cope as he heads out to New Mexico and the Ice Wolves’ tryout camp this coming week.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.