For Cooper Marody, the road to recent success started with a serious talk.
Three weeks ago, Michigan hockey coach Mel Pearson called the junior forward into his office for a conversation about his practice habits.
Heading into an important series in State College against then-No. 15 Penn State, Pearson needed to ensure one of his team’s biggest stars was practicing to the fullest, working his hardest and playing his best come game time. He underscored taking practice as seriously as any game only builds better habits for when the lights shine brightest.
Until that point, Marody hadn’t fulfilled Pearson’s hopes in practice, and it showed. In the first four games, he registered a lone assist in the Wolverines’ regular season opener against St. Lawrence and displayed little other offensive production.
The two discussed his status on a team that now ranks fourth in the country with 3.9 goals per game. They spoke about his oft-lackadaisical approach to practice and what is expected out of a leader day in and day out.
“You can tell when someone is working hard and paying attention to detail and he wasn’t,” Pearson said. “We knew he was going to have a prominent role, so we just wanted to make sure. Sometimes as a player, you maybe don’t understand it or you think you’re working hard, but sometimes you don’t know.
“He just needed a reminder and we had to let him know he’s an important part of our team, but he had to be one of the hardest working players. I’m not saying he was just going through the motions, I just thought he thought he was working. He needed reminders — the subtle, kind reminders.”
The meeting paid off.
Marody has notched three goals and 12 assists in his last six games. Over that span, the Brighton, Mich. native has recorded multi-point outputs in each contest, highlighted by three-point performances in both matchups against Penn State and a game-winner and two assists in a 7-2 rout over Ferris State on Nov. 3.
And as Marody thrived, so did Michigan.
The Wolverines split series against the highly-touted Nittany Lions and Bulldogs and collected a win and tie — both in exciting comeback fashion — against then-No. 4 powerhouse Minnesota. In short, Marody has been instrumental in slowly transforming a team originally picked to finish sixth in the Big Ten preseason coaches poll into an early dark horse NCAA Tournament contender now ranked 17th in the nation.
“I can’t say it’s that conversation, but from that point on, he’s been really, really good,” Pearson said after Friday’s 5-4 overtime victory against the Golden Gophers. “He’s fun to watch, he’s dangerous and he’s working so much harder than he was the first few weeks.”
Both Pearson and Marody had eerily similar answers about where the latest outburst came from. A workmanlike attitude, attention to detail, confidence and chemistry on the first line with senior forwards Dexter Dancs and Tony Calderone all point to Marody’s recent surge. However, it all starts with a positive mentality in practice.
“There’s a direct correlation between his work ethic and his production,” Pearson said. “I think part of it is mentally, you’ve got to punch it in mentally and prepare. … He started to pick it up when we went into Penn State, which we needed him (to do) in a tough rink. It’s not a coincidence his hard work paid off. Sometimes it doesn’t, but I’m glad it did in this instance because it reaffirms working hard in practice.”
A big Tom Brady fan, Marody constantly watches his videos, which emphasize the importance of practice. Nevertheless, even after taking cues from the former Michigan football star, Marody believes Pearson’s gentle nudging came at the right time.
“(Brady) stresses that when he was here, he had to prove himself every day and practice every day like they were trying to replace you,” Marody said. “I knew the importance of practice from that, but it was just a great reminder by Coach to talk about that and just try to approach every practice like it’s a game and it needs to be like that.”
Pearson showed Marody videos of himself, illustrating when low energy in practice translated to miscues in games. Marody wasn’t in proper position, didn’t capitalize on opportunities to move the puck and was often beat up and down the ice.
The coach also noted the tough position Marody’s level of effort put him in. How could Pearson continue to reward one of his best players with extra ice time, especially on the power play, when he wasn’t a top worker?
But over the past three weeks, Marody has changed his mentality and become more of a role model during practice. It has paid dividends for both himself and his teammates.
Dancs credits some of Michigan’s recent success to Marody’s newfound determination.
“Coop’s a super talented player,” Dancs said. “He has elite offensive skills and I think with a guy like that when he has confidence, he’s really scary to play against. I think that over the last six games, he’s gained that confidence and now that he has that confidence, you get more and more and keep going and going and it’s like a locomotive going forward. … He’s on the top of his game.”
It was a tough climb to the top.
Marody is focused on playing his first full season as a Wolverine. In January of his impressive freshman campaign, he was sidelined with mononucleosis for the remainder of the season. The next fall, he was ruled academically ineligible to play — partly due to the previous year’s illness — and laced up for just 18 games as a sophomore. Now healthy, Marody is on track for career-highs in all categories.
His 16 points this season are seventh-best in the NCAA and his 13 assists rank second. Tied for first in the Big Ten with 10 points — one goal and nine helpers — Marody was named the conference’s Third Star of the Week following his two-goal, two-assist weekend against Ferris State.
But to Marody, none of the accolades matter when it comes to the upcoming tasks at hand, such as facing top Big Ten opponents like No. 9 Wisconsin this weekend and making a run at the NCAA Tournament.
“I think it’s an honor to be given those things, but I don’t put much self-worth into that at all,” Marody said. “It’s nice to receive awards and acknowledgment, but that can’t be your focus. You can’t be doing things to receive awards, you do things to help your team and help yourself be the best player you can be.
“I think the road is just starting for our team. We’re just 10 games in and it’s going to be a long season and we have to be better moving forward. The past is the past and we’ll focus on the future.”
For Marody, that future looks bright.
A serious talk, which redirected Marody’s course, led to a player with a newfound confidence and a necessary spark in his game. It didn’t take long for Marody to return to his elite playmaking abilities from his freshman year.
All it took was a conversation with his coach.