HOUGHTON - Perhaps Michigan Tech hockey goaltender Kevin Genoe will put together a senior season like Josh Robinson did last year. Or, maybe recent Winnipeg Jet draft pick and incoming freshman Jamie Phillips will usurp the starting role. Then again, it could be fellow freshman Pheonix Copley between the pipes when the Huskies start the 2012-13 season.
In any case, the three-way tug-of-war for playing time will be a fascinating battle to monitor throughout the season for coach Mel Pearson and goaltender coach Steve Shields.
"If one guy establishes himself, we won't be hesitant to ride him, but I feel all three will have a chance to play," Pearson said. "They'll determine who's going to play and we'll have competition in net."
Michigan Tech freshman goaltender Pheonix Copley watches a puck in the corner during a hockey practice last week at John MacInnes Student Ice Arena. He, fellow freshman Jamie Phillips and senior Kevin Genoe are all expected to challenge for starting opportunities this year. (DMG photo by Stephen Anderson)
And it's a competition Copley, a 6-foot-3, 175-pound netminder from North Pole, Alaska, is more than ready for.
"I like it. I think it's going to help all three of us knowing that we all have to battle every day for playing time," said Copley, who has plenty of first-hand experience vying for a starting spot against stiff competition.
Current University of Minnesota freshman goaltender and Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick Adam Wilcox was traded to Copley's Tri-City Storm team in the United States Hockey League last year, and Wilcox stole most of the playing time.
Copley, who tallied a 3.14 goals against average and .905 save percentage in 25 games with Tri-City, was traded to Des Moines at the trade deadline. There he tallied a 3.09 GAA and .909 save percentage in 20 games for the Buccaneers.
The previous season, in 2010-11, instead of being traded away, his primary competition was traded after Copley earned the starting job for the North American Hockey League's Corpus Chrisi IceRays. There he played in 42 games with a 4.17 GAA and .880 save percentage.
"I was young and got to play a lot of games, which was exciting," said the now-20-year-old Copley. "That was a big stepping stone for me getting that ice time and playing that much in juniors."
Coincidentally, Copley's final two games of the 2010-11 season were against the NAHL's New Mexico Mustangs, then coached by current Tech assistant coach Bill Muckalt.
Muckalt was impressed, and the Huskies touched base with Copley at the USHL Fall Classic last year and brought him to Houghton for a campus visit the first weekend in November. Copley was impressed and committed to Tech about a week later.
"There were a few other schools I narrowed it down to (including hometown Alaska-Fairbanks and his childhood hometown team Ohio State), and overall I felt that Michigan Tech was the best fit for me," he said.
He liked the small-campus feel, and the coaching staff played a key role, particularly having Shields as an individual goalie coach.
"I don't think it gets much better," Copley said.
Copley is Pearson's first goaltender recruit, and he and Phillips both stand 6 feet, 3 inches tall, a very different mold from Genoe's 5-foot, 11-inch stature.
"(Copley) is a big tall lanky goalie who moves well and competes really hard," Pearson said. "We really like his athleticism and he has all the attributes we were looking for. Obviously he has a chance to be a very good goaltender."
Not bad for a guy who first switched from forward to goaltender simply because his older brother Navarone wanted somebody to shoot on growing up. Navarone remained a forward, also eventually played for the IceRays, and Copley remained a goaltender.
"I started playing goalie and I liked it. I kept moving up and playing. My first year I left Alaska away from home was my midget year, Midget AAA (with the SoCal Titans) in California," Copley said.
From Ohio to Alaska growing up, to California, to Texas (Corpus Christi), to Nebraska (Tri-City), to Des Moines, to Houghton - it's been quite a journey for Copley, but he's ready to settle in and have an immediate impact on the Huskies.
"I'm sure we all have high expectations and of course I want to play as much as possible, but I just want to help the team as much as I can," he said.
Copley, who enjoys fishing, golfing and camping in his minimal free time, will be majoring in general engineering.
"At first it was kind of an eye-opener since I haven't been in school for a while, but I'm starting to settle in," Copley said.
Now it's time for Tech fans to start settling in, too, for another hockey season in Houghton, highlighted by a highly competitive battle for starting goaltender.
Editor's note: This article is the third in a series of "Tech Tomorrow" features on 2012-13 Michigan Tech hockey freshmen. Previous features have been written about forward C.J. Eick (tinyurl.com/ctbetn3) and goaltender Jamie Phillips (tinyurl.com/d9luryk).