Discover more from The Mack Report
Copponi becomes Merrimack's go-to guy
NORTH ANDOVER — Every team has a go-to guy.
You know, that player who grabs the puck and can make something happen by himself, usually when his team needs it the most?
When star forward Alex Jefferies went down with an injury the week before the season opener, we wondered who would be that guy for the Warriors.
Enter Matt Copponi.
The junior center had two assists last night for the Warriors in a 5-2 win over St. Lawrence. Moreover, he's been arguably the team's best all-around player through four games.
"Alex Jefferies is one of the top players in the league, probably one of the top players in the whole nation," Copponi said. "Everyone knows that. For me, I'm trying not to second-guess myself. I'm trying not to overthink and just go out and play."
Copponi assisted on Devlin O’Brien’s first career goal and added a helper on Michael Citara’s first goal as a Warrior. He has four points (2 goals, 2 assists) in four games and leads the team in shot attempts.
On Friday night, he scored a power-play goal on an end-to-end rush that was so pretty it ended up as the No. 2 play on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 on Saturday morning.
On Sunday, Copponi drew a penalty in the first period, busting through defenders in the slot, and the St. Lawrence defenders had no recourse but to trip him. He kept his feet moving with the puck, which Merrimack head coach Scott Borek said has been a focus.
"He's feeling it right now," Borek said. "He just wants the puck. When his feet are moving, he's tough to stop. Matt has always had great hands, and he's always great 1-on-1, but he's attacking with his feet more now. He's stronger, more elusive. He's just so much more to handle, and he has been dominant at times.
"It's huge having him step up with (Jefferies) out. When injuries happen, other guys get opportunities. Even if guys play all the time, like Matty, it forces them into a different role."
As much as Copponi has been a factor with the puck, his play without the puck has impressed his coaches the most.
Last season, Copponi was one of the Warriors' top scorers, but he sat out a game against Providence on Jan. 13. At the time, Borek thought Copponi needed to play harder away from the puck.
Now, he's arguably one of the team's most aggressive players on the backcheck. He had a blocked shot in the third period that woke up the bench and prevented a scoring chance for the Saints.
Copponi said that his play off the puck was stressed by the Edmonton Oilers, the team that drafted him last summer. He joked, “They already have Connor McDavid.”
"He's realizing that he has an opportunity ahead of him (in pro hockey)," Borek said. "He's playing so well off the puck right now, it's elevating his game. When you play harder off the puck, you have to do it less because you have the puck more. I've been really impresed with his play."
Of all the areas where Copponi has found a new level -- from his ability to make 1-on-1 offensive plays to his relentless motor on the backcheck -- perhaps the biggest area of improvement has been on faceoffs.
Last season, among Merrimack's regular centers, Copponi had the worst faceoff percentage (40 percent).
This season, he's among the best faceoff performers on the team. Last night, he went 20-5 on draws against the Saints.
"I tried to focus on the harder stuff this summer," he said. "My game needs to take a step in those areas. I did a lot of film with Scott and (Dan) Jewell, and then Jimmy (Mullin) when he got here. I want to be the biggest, strongest guy on the ice every time I am out there. I really focused on trying to be an impact player every time I step on the ice in every area of the ice."
Copponi said he watched hours of faceoff film on Patrice Bergeron, who was regularly among the top faceoff performers in the NHL. He's adapted some of Bergeron's techniques to his approach on the dot.
"He gets so low," Copponi said. "I wasn't getting anywhere new low enough. When you get low like that I almost have an extra foot. I'm not waiting for the puck to hit the ice before I make a play on it. I'm starting my sweep at the puck while it's still dropping. That has helped me a ton."
Copponi hopes this all leads not to a Team MVP or Hockey East individual award. He's only focused on one thing.
"Our goal is to win a championship," he said. "We have a room full of guys who take pride in putting on that jersey. No one here cares who scores the goals, as long as we have more than the other team. We're building every day towards a championship. That's our focus."
We are offering a membership special for Merrimack students. If you are a Merrimack student (with an @merrimack.edu email address), you are eligible to receive 50% off your subscription to The Mack Report. Click the button below to redeem this offer.