Excellence On The Ice Has Always Been A Coppo Family Tradition
Growing up, Grady Coppo never felt pressure from his family to play hockey.
But he certainly felt an obligation to lace up his skates and live up to the family name.
Grady, who is a senior at De Pere High School and plays for the Green Bay Bobcats 18U team, loves hockey, and a big reason why is his grandpa, Paul Coppo. The 82-year-old is a legend in the USA Hockey ranks. A native of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Paul skated on the 1964 U.S. Olympic Team, three U.S. National Teams and was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004.
“People come up to you like, ‘Wasn’t your grandpa in the Olympics?’” Grady said. “It’s neat for sure. I feel like I kind of take it for granted sometimes, but then when I think about it more, it’s pretty crazy actually.”
The 17-year-old enjoys listening to his grandpa’s stories about hockey.
“Hearing stories when I was younger, like the Olympics, the Bobcats, the people my grandpa and dad have met through hockey, it really inspired me to play and at least pursue hockey,” Grady said. “So many stories I’ve heard just from my grandpa. They’re all good ones, too. He’s got a lot of them.” Does Grady listen to his grandpa more closely because of who he is and his hockey background? “I don’t know, but I hope so,” Paul joked.
“Any time [Paul’s] around them, they talk a little bit about hockey,” said John Coppo, Grady’s dad and Paul’s son. “Grady listens intently to all of it. He’s a good listener. He’s a student of hockey already. But he listens to my dad every time he has to tell him something.”
Hockey has always been an important part of the Coppos’ life. “It’s been big in our family starting with my dad way back whenever he started playing with Portage Lake in the 1950s,” said John, aka JP, who is the head coach of the De Pere Voyageurs boys’ team.
“Then it came to me, and I had my brief career with high school and juniors and a touch in college. But then Grady’s on the upswing of how this development style in hockey goes. It’s kind of neat to see the history that he’s been brought up with that I also went through. It’s really been a special kind of bond between all the boys.”
Another tie that binds the younger and older Coppos is playing for the Bobcats. Paul skated for the Bobcats when it was a semi-professional team. He played on the squad for 11 seasons, 1960-71 – scoring a program-record 559 points. He then coached it for four years from 1971-75, winning USHL coach of the year in 1974-75. Paul also owned the club for about 10 years before it folded in 1979.
Years later, the Green Bay Bobcats name was restored as a Tier II youth program, which Grady plays on. “We, of course, played with the Bobcats when we were out of college. But to have those guys represent the Green Bay Bobcat team, it’s sort of exciting,” Paul said. “It’s a little bonus when you’ve got a grandson playing.” Added Grady: “It’s interesting because I know there’s so much history in that uniform and in my family in general and when I think about that, it’s just weird to me that I’m just kind of continuing that tradition. It’s cool.”
During the winter months, Paul heads to Florida to escape the Wisconsin winters. While in the south, he isn’t totally removed from his family and hockey. He’s able to watch the De Pere Voyageurs games on YouTube to see Grady, his younger brother, Casey, on the ice and John coaching. “He would call up and say, ‘This is great. I get to watch these games,’” John said. “He really enjoys watching good hockey. He really enjoys watching his grandsons play.”
Grady enjoys it when his grandpa can watch his games in person. He knows a special set of eyes will be on him at all times and he does his best to live up to the Coppo name.
“Any time I’m playing and have a good game or bad game, I know that my name is going to be represented by how I play or how I act on the ice, so I always try to be the most positive I can and just do the best I can to represent the name well,” Grady said.
“All three of us, my grandpa, my dad and I, we just try to represent the last name as well as we can. I think so far, we’ve done that. Hopefully, generations will do it after us.”
Greg Bates is a freelance writer based in Green Bay, Wis.
Reprinted with permission from USA Hockey Magazine