In MiHockey’s MiStory feature, we let hockey people tell their own stories with their own words. Brighton native Cooper Marody always dreamed of playing for the Michigan Wolverines. These days, he dreams of performing on a different kind of big stage, too. Marody, about to begin his junior season, writes about living out his dream of playing at Yost Ice Arena and chasing his dreams of a professional hockey career and, perhaps, a music career, as well, in our latest MiStory feature.
To read past editions of MiStory, click here.
By Cooper Marody –
As long as I can remember I wanted to be a Wolverine. Growing up, I was obsessed with Michigan sports and went to many games with my dad. I had my eighth birthday party at Yost. I had a Michigan-themed bedroom. Every day I woke up to an amazing “view” of the Big House.
Even though it was just a mural of Michigan Stadium on the wall next to my bed, it did inspire me to dream BIG – so much so that in my fourth grade yearbook I wrote the following:
“When I grow up I want to play in the NHL. But before that I have to go to college. I will go to college at Michigan and I will play hockey there.”
While my 10-year-old self thought this was a realistic plan, my 11 to 15-year-old self had some serious doubts about it. As a kid I was a late-bloomer with a “terrible hockey birthday” – Dec. 20.
All the other guys on my team shot past me on the growth chart. I got cut from my AAA team. Then when I started high school I got cut from the varsity team at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s. I even got cut from the USHL team that drafted me a few years later. I am living proof that if you have a dream and are willing to work hard and overcome adversity, there isn’t anything you can’t accomplish, but sometimes that was a difficult thing to tell myself during my youth hockey days.
Two years into my high school hockey career at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, I had to make a big sacrifice to pursue my hockey dream. At 16, I moved away from home to play hockey in the United States Hockey League – our country’s only Tier I junior hockey league. At the time I was a fairly shy person, but it’s safe to say moving away got me out of my shell. Playing in the USHL requires you to live with a host family, change schools and be away from home. I had to mature very quickly.
A few months into the season I got “shoe checked.” What does it mean to get shoe checked? Usually at team dinner at a restaurant, if one of your teammates marks your shoe with something without your knowledge, you have to stand up in front of the entire restaurant and sing a song. I was absolutely petrified; I barely knew my teammates, let alone anyone in this restaurant. I stood up and sang “With You” by Chris Brown. Although I was scared, it turned out pretty good. I thought I had a decent voice when I was singing along to my favorite songs alone in my car, but this was totally different. After my first live performance, I wasn’t exactly committed to being a singer, but I did enjoy it and kept practicing in my car.
While playing in the USHL, my dream of playing for Michigan became a reality, too. When they offered me, Coach Berenson said to take some time and think about it and let us know. I surprised him by committing on the spot. I explained to Red that I had been literally thinking about this my whole life and didn’t need to contemplate it for another minute.
The following hockey season I helped lead my Sioux Falls Stampede team to a USHL Clark Cup Championship. A few weeks after that I moved another step closer to my even bigger dream of playing in the NHL when I was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers. The draft was a surreal experience and very humbling. It was a true honor to be drafted, but in reality it means the hard work to fulfill that NHL dream was just beginning.
One summer night up north before my freshman year at Michigan, my dad gathered my family in the living room of a vacation home and said he had a surprise for us. He explained that he bought a guitar a few months back and had been secretly practicing. Then he played a Luke Bryan song. Although he was only playing four basic chords, I was in awe and was instantly inspired. If my dad’s guitar weren’t left-handed, I would have been up all night learning. So the next morning I drove to downtown Cheboygan and I was able to find an inexpensive acoustic guitar. No one, including me, would have ever dreamed that I would be playing guitar and singing. A hockey player can’t do that, right?
By the time I moved into my dorm my freshman year at Michigan, my guitar skills had improved to where I was able to play basic chords and sing along with them. As I got more confidence, I started playing and singing for friends in the dorms. I didn’t want to annoy my roommate and teammate Joseph Cecconi with my guitar playing, so I would go to one of the dorm’s music rooms. Each music room also had a piano. So after going to class, hockey practice, and finishing my homework, I went to one of the music rooms, practiced guitar and started teaching myself how to play piano. After getting tired of just playing piano and guitar covers, I started writing my own songs, too. Since then, my skills in piano, guitar, singing and songwriting have come a long way (at least in my humble opinion).
My teammates have been very supportive and encouraging, which has been awesome. They have played my songs in the weight room and recently asked me to bring my guitar to our team retreat so I could play some of the songs around the campfire that I have written.
It is safe to say that now, I would have no problem getting shoe checked.
While my childhood hockey dreams are starting to come true, I also realize that I am more than just a hockey player. As my wise youth hockey coach (he also goes by ‘Dad’ in the Marody residence) told us every season, “Be a fine young man that happens to play hockey.” Coach Berenson also echoed this mantra. Red always focused on who you were as a person not just a hockey player. On my recruiting visit, he could have easily impressed me by mentioning all the superstar players Michigan advanced to the NHL; instead, the former players he proudly talked about first were now military men, entrepreneurs, doctors and neurosurgeons. He fostered an environment of being a ‘leader and best’ on the ice and off. That’s why I think so many former Michigan players have pursued entrepreneurial and philanthropic interests in addition to or after having NHL careers.
It’s not just Red who fosters this. I think Coach Pearson is exactly the same way. In fact, this is a common theme at Michigan as further evidenced by Associate Athletic Director Greg Harden.
One day I was watching a documentary about one of my idols on YouTube called, “Inside the Mind of Tom Brady.” I was surprised to learn that Tom Brady’s champion mindset was developed with the help of Harden. The documentary describes in fascinating detail Tom Brady’s challenging path to greatness.However, what resonated with me the most was when Harden said, “My job was to convince Tom Brady that with or without football he was going to be great. And once he seized that, he had no limits. I expected him to be good at everything that he did…everything.”
After hearing that, I was compelled to seek out Greg Harden. From the first meeting I had with Greg, he told me to plant the mindset into my head that, “With or without hockey, you will be great.” He told me to work to be great at everything I did, including hockey, music, school, everything.
So what does this ‘with or without’ mindset really mean? It is certainly not taking away your drive or commitment to being a professional athlete. It is doing the exact opposite. It’s fostering your drive by freeing your mind and encouraging you to avoid putting all of your self-worth into solely being an athlete. It allows the athlete to see that they are a multi-dimensional human being. To be truly successful, it is crucial to focus on not only striving to be a great hockey player, but also striving to be a great man in all aspects of your life. Professional success would mean nothing to me if I were not also a great husband, father, and role model someday.
It all goes back to what my dad preached to me from a young age.
“Be a fine young man that happens to play hockey.”
I am so excited to start a new era of Michigan Hockey this season with our new coaches and Team 96. This year in Ann Arbor, I am living in a 12th floor apartment. There is a window right next to my bed and every morning when I wake up, I have an amazing view of the actual Big House. And just like when I was a kid, it is still inspiring me to dream BIG.