For Cooper Marody, Joe Louis Arena represents the home of some of his favorite moments from his childhood. The sophomore forward recalls attending Detroit Red Wings games with his father and even a few Great Lakes Invitationals — while growing up.
He always dreamed of playing at “The Joe,” and Friday night, along with the rest of the Michigan hockey team, he will play there for a final time during the regular season.
Adding even greater significance, the Wolverines will face off against in-state rival Michigan State, as both are looking to claim the Iron D Trophy.
“My whole life I’ve been a die-hard Michigan fan,” Marody said. “I obviously didn’t like State, so every time you play these games there’s higher emotion, the whole crowd gets into it. There’s a lot on the line and we’re gonna try to play the best we can.”
Added senior goaltender Zach Nagelvoort: “In the past, you could say ‘Oh it’s the last time (for me) at Michigan, but maybe you’ll be playing against the Wings in the coming years’. But this year’s different.”
As a senior, Nagelvoort will relish one of his last opportunities to play at the arena when the Big Ten Tournament begins in mid-March. But after this season, the “Duel in the D” will move to Little Caesars Arena, and Joe Louis Arena will become a memory of the past.
This week, former Michigan defenseman Zach Werenski published a letter online detailing his favorite memories and experiences at the arena. Nagelvoort and some of his teammates read the letter and couldn’t help but feel a similar nostalgia.
“ … It’s always been really cool to have the opportunity to play there,” Nagelvoort said. “There’s a lot of people who make negative comments about what the facilities are like at the Joe. I personally love it. It’s one of my favorite rinks that I’ve had the opportunity to play at, besides Yost of course. It’s exciting to get to play there again tomorrow. I know I’m gonna enjoy it, it’s gonna be interesting to catch myself looking around, enjoying the moment because it’s a really cool venue to play games at and it’s sad that it’s the last time.”
The weekend series could also be one of the last times Nagelvoort and his fellow seniors will play against their counterparts from East Lansing. He grew up playing with certain members of the Spartans’ roster, and now, after nearly four years of playing against each other, Friday and Saturday night could be the the last time. There won't be another GLI or "Dual in the D" — just two more matchups this weekend and perhaps an opportunity in the postseason.
Though given where Michigan and Michigan State currently sit in the standings — second to last and last, respectively — a matchup in the postseason is unlikely.
“Some of the kids (on Michigan State) I grew up playing against and playing with,” Nagelvoort said. “Guys like (Spartan forward) Joe Cox, we played our entire childhood together, we’re really good friends. On the ice, we hate the guys, it’s a fun rivalry, it’s a really intense game. But that all ends when you get off the ice.
“It’s a fun game to be a part of and it’s gonna be really exciting, especially because it’s one of the last two games we play against each other at Michigan. For it to be at the Joe is really cool.”
In this final series against Michigan State, the Wolverines will look to build upon their offensive performance last weekend. For the first time all season, it seemed as if their offense finally came to life. They outshot an opponent consecutively — a first — and scored five goals in both games.
Still, Michigan ended the weekend with only one victory, something that Michigan coach Red Berenson believes may have stemmed from struggling special teams play. In the last six games, the Wolverines have scored just three goals on the power play while allowing eight on the penalty kill, a margin that Berenson believes is imperative to improve should Michigan wish to compete in the upcoming stretch of the season.
“I couldn’t have told you before the weekend that we would give up seven power play goals,” Berenson said. “On the other side, I couldn’t have told you that we would’ve scored 10 goals at home. We’ve only scored five goals once all year. You never know those things going in. You play hard, you play the right way, and then some good things happen.”
An added bonus for Berenson is the re-emergence of Marody, who, after missing the first half of the season due to academic ineligibility, notched his first-career hat trick Friday and added another goal in Saturday’s game.
Marody credits his resurgence to his work with Michigan strength and conditioning coach, Joe Maher. Marody says his time with Maher helped him re-energize and improve for this final part of the season.
“I think he’s motivated, he couldn’t wait to play,” Berenson said. “He was practicing in October, November and December. He couldn’t wait to play in the GLI. Then, he was rusty, he wasn’t as quick, he wasn’t as sharp from practicing as he needed to be in games. I think every game he’s shown glimpses of what he can do, and last weekend he finally got some offensive things going. That’s the player that we were seeing in practices, but we didn’t see it in the first few games.”
Friday, for one of the last times in their careers, Marody and Nagelvoort will play at Joe Louis Arena. Marody will reminisce about the times with his father and Nagelvoort will recall the three GLIs he played in at the arena over the years.
But as a whole, Michigan will play a game against a bitter rival and hope to emerge from its last regular season game at a historic arena with a victory.