Cooper Marody didn’t blow out the candles on his 10th birthday cake in a Chuck E. Cheese’s, or even in his own home.

Instead, he elected to have his birthday party at Yost Ice Arena — a choice that, in retrospect, seems to have foreshadowed the path his hockey career would follow.

Now a freshman forward for the Michigan hockey team, Marody has played every game for the Wolverines, tallying three goals and four assists. His early-season performance has catapulted him to first on the team in scoring, along with fellow freshman forward Kyle Connor. The duo is also tied ninth nationally among freshmen in points per game.

And Marody has shown that regardless of class ranking, he has ice in his veins and the determination of a veteran.

As the Wolverines found themselves tied against then-No. 18 Union on away ice, Marody was the one to give Michigan its first lead of the game by simply hustling to the puck off a deflection faster than his defender. He finished the chance cooly. 

“He’s brought it, I give him credit,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “He showed up to the first practice like he was ready for this. You only get one chance to make a good first impression, and he’s done that.”

Though Marody is excelling for the Wolverines, his path to Yost was unconventional and riddled with adversity.

The freshman was never a highly touted recruit. He was cut from his high school varsity team as a freshman. And just a year ago, he struggled in the United States Hockey League as a member of the Muskegon Lumberjacks.

But when Marody was traded to the Sioux Falls Stampede, Berenson watched the kid who committed to him as a 17-year-old transform into a different player.

Marody finished 11th overall in USHL scoring with 58 points, 49 of which came in the 38 games he played with the Stampede. As if that wasn’t enough, he put an exclamation point on his breakout season by leading Sioux Falls to the Western Conference regular-season title and the 2015 Clark Cup championship.

And while Marody is headlining Michigan’s highest-scoring line (which has tallied 17 points), his prior trials and tribulations have kept him humbled.

“I don’t mind being the underdog, and it (has) been like that my whole career,” Marody said. “I’m just looking to prove the people right that always believed in me, and Michigan always believed in me. That’s why I’ve had good success so far, because they all believed in me and gave me a shot, and I’m working hard to earn that.”

Earning this opportunity has been a lifelong dream for Marody, who is a Brighton, Mich., native. His father, Patrick, raised his son as a Wolverine fan. His childhood fandom is one of the reasons Marody chose Yost for a birthday celebration over more conventional options as a third grader.

Being exposed to the Michigan hockey culture for such an extended period of time fostered an appreciation for the position he’s in. 

“You don’t really know what to expect exactly, how your game is going to acclimate to the college level,” Marody said. “But I think I just try to do the little things and work hard. … I grew up a diehard Michigan fan. I think it takes my passion to a whole (new) level when I put on that jersey, and I think that’s propelled me to have such a confident start.”

Now, with that confidence, Marody is blowing his coaches’ and teammates’ expectations away — just like those candles nine years ago.

Berenson and his staff never anticipated the immediate impact Marody is having. They recognized the talent was there, but they also anticipated that the freshman would experience some collegiate-level growing pains — a prediction that Marody ensured wouldn’t come true.

“He was in shape, he was confident,” Berenson said. “He has competed hard and he has listened. He’s doing all of the things that we’re telling our team to do. And it’s working.”

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