As the Michigan hockey team left the rink at the conclusion of its practice Wednesday, another team took the ice — Ann Arbor Skyline High School. The Eagles had a game that afternoon, but before they suited up, some players and coaches took pictures on the edge of the rink.
Little did they know that they would get a short speech from Michigan freshman forward Cooper Marody.
“I asked them if they’re JV or varsity,” Marody said. “And I told them I played JV my freshman year, so don’t feel like you’re not going to be able to make it.”
Earlier this year, it was clear Marody had made it himself. He wasn’t just another player on the roster. He was centering the third line and had a hot start to the season that landed him first on the team in points.
Though he cooled off, Marody’s 14 points are still good for 10th on the team, and he is just eight points short of jumping to fourth — behind the line of freshman forward Kyle Connor and junior forwards Tyler Motte and JT Compher — in that ranking.
And to the freshman forward, much of his early success stems from his own ice back home in Brighton, Mich.
Roughly six years ago, Marody’s father built a rink in the family’s backyard at home. Now that Marody is in Ann Arbor, the ice time has been passed down to his little brother. But that doesn’t mean he has forgotten the days of skating alone in his own backyard arena.
“That (rink) is what took me to a new level … being out there every day, gaining the confidence,” Marody said. “I worked on my hands a lot there, worked on a lot of skills. That’s how I’ve been able to be successful at the higher levels.”
But in the middle of January, Marody’s success was quickly put on hold when he was diagnosed with mononucleosis. The freshman has been forced to sit every game since the Wolverines’ 8-6 win against Ohio State on Jan. 17.
Naturally, the nearly month-long waiting period to get back on the ice was frustrating for Marody. As if being sidelined wasn’t disappointing enough, missing out on Michigan’s stellar performances in trademark venues made the experience even worse.
In back-to-back weekends, Marody was forced to watch from home as the Wolverines played Penn State in Madison Square Garden and Michigan State in Joe Louis Arena in the “Duel for the D.” Those aren’t experiences that come around very often.
He was stuck on the outside looking in, as Michigan continued to build a case for being one of the most historic offenses in the past decade of college hockey — scoring 32 goals in the seven games he missed.
Despite his frustration, the time away from the ice may have been a blessing in disguise for Marody.
“Everything happens for a reason — nothing you can do about it besides coming back stronger,” Marody said.
“When you do something every day, you kind of lose how cool it is and how special it is. I think I gained that back, and that’s what has allowed me to be so successful in the past, to put that extra passion (into my game).”
Then there’s the music — another area into which he has put extra passion during his time away.
For most people, being sick with mononucleosis gives you a whole lot of time to sit around doing nothing.
While there was some of that for Marody, he also put a lot of time into schoolwork and playing the guitar, something he taught himself to do. And Sunday, he took it to the next level by starting to write his own song.
By Marody’s estimation, it only took him 30 minutes to write, and yesterday, he produced the final product — tweeting the YouTube link to the acoustic song.
Now, his Michigan teammates are just wondering which one of them will get a role in the next performance.
“A lot of the guys have made jokes about getting featured, doing a little bit of background singing,” Marody said. “I think Boo would be good to incorporate a little bit of drumming in there, because he’s a big-time drummer. I don’t know about any background singing, but I think Boo would be good for drums.”
Coming down with mononucleosis also gave Marody a unique opportunity to take an extended period of time to learn from watching his teammates — specifically JT Compher.
Compher is about as close as Marody can get to a perfect example on the Wolverines’ roster.
The junior captain centers the first line, as Marody did on the third, and is second on the team in points with 43, good for third in the country. That’s without mentioning that Compher is ranked second nationally in assists, trailing leader Tyler Kelleher by just two.
But despite all of Compher’s eye-popping numbers that are largely a product of his finesse game, that’s not what stands out the most to Marody.
“He’s just a really smart player in the first place,” Marody said. “I think what really separates him is his grittiness and ability to stay on guys, win the little battles in the corners, all the things like that around the zone. He’s just relentless all around the ice, and I think I really want to implement that in my game.”
With Marody set to return to game action soon, potentially the non-conference game against Ferris State on Friday, taking what he has learned and translating it into results is a likely possibility.
Even with an illness, Marody has made the most of every minute off the ice as he did on it.
And while he missed the celebrity-like thrill of playing in the Joe or the “World’s Most Famous Arena,” maybe that will bode well for Michigan.
Because the next time Marody steps in front of a crowd at Yost Ice Arena, don’t be surprised if you see someone playing with the passion of a kid in his ice rink back home.