WINNIPEG — As he sat in front of a microphone with his arms folded and a wide smile stretching across his face, Andrew Copp did his best to dig into his lifetime of hockey memories to identify a similar moment.
Doing the exercise in real time at a podium during a Zoom interview was probably not how the Winnipeg Jets' versatile forward envisioned celebrating the first four-goal game of his NHL career.
But when it comes to soaking in rare milestones like this one, a four-goal performance in a 5-1 triumph over the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday, you take them any way you can get them.
“I’m going to have a hard time remembering my last four-goal game,” said Copp, who became the first player in the NHL to score four goals in a game this season. “I don’t know, I don’t know if that’s ever happened before.”
It hadn’t happened since Copp broke into the NHL on the final day of the regular season in 2015, suiting up for the Jets after they’d secured a playoff berth.
It didn’t happen during three seasons with the University of Michigan Wolverines, where Copp went from walk-on to team captain in a three-year span.
There are many layers to the Copp origin story, dating back to his time as a two-sport athlete who was a star quarterback and set the single-game state record for passing yards (557) for Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, Mich.
After choosing to pursue his puck dream instead of chasing a dream on the gridiron, Copp had to go out and earn everything he got.
When you’re not the star recruit, you’re forced to utilize your strengths and lean on your leadership ability and intangibles to get noticed.
For a guy who often started on the periphery of the roster, Copp always found a way to work his way up the lineup and make a valuable contribution.
He can be counted on when the chips were down.
That rise in trajectory has followed him to the NHL, where Copp broke in as a fourth-liner who was known for his high hockey intelligence, impeccable positioning and detail-oriented game.
The opening was all he needed to establish himself as a regular, but Copp has always been hungry for more.
Generating chances for himself and his linemates has never been an issue for Copp since joining the Jets, but the enormous effort he’s put in to improve his finish around the net is finally paying dividends.
“Worked really hard at it. Like I said, it kind of doesn’t happen overnight,” said Copp, who is up to 10 goals and 25 points in 33 games this season. “Some nights are a lot better than others. Still have how many other games left to go, and things still left to prove.”
That’s the thing with Copp: Even on a night he enjoyed a big breakthrough, he wasn’t about to let a shred of complacency enter the equation.
There are still 23 games left in the regular season, and Copp has other things he wants to accomplish.
Earlier in the day, Copp was talking to reporters about the play of his line with Adam Lowry and Mason Appleton — a unit that delivered a pair goals in Monday’s 4-0 victory and is known for having an ability to drive play.
“I don’t really consider us a checking line anymore,” Copp said. “Before, we were very defensive-oriented. But now, you look at the guys that we have on the line and the production we’ve had, we don’t look at ourselves that way. We’re going to be responsible, we’re not going to change our game by any means. We’re definitely going to play the right way in the D-zone. As soon as we get that place where we’re looking to attack, our offensive game looks a lot different than maybe our second line with their speed and open-ice dynamic and playmaking.
“Our offence is going to look a little different for sure. When we’re in the offensive zone, we’re looking to score, we’re looking to get pucks to the net. We’re not looking to, especially when we have the puck, make too safe of plays just because who is coming back the other way. Especially on the road, teams are trying to avoid putting certain guys against us. If we’re getting third line match-ups, we’re not going out there to shut down their third line, we’re going out there to score.”
Mission accomplished — and point well taken.
The Lowry line can handle the burden of playing against offensive players, but they’re doing more than just holding water; they’re winning those matchups and creating big-time issues for the opposition.
“He's really worked at it, would be the simple answer,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice, when asked to explain how Copp has taken the latest step in his hockey journey. “He spends an awful lot of his time trying to develop that part of his game. I think his talent and his gift is the defensive part of the game, and that comes naturally to him. He's spent an awful lot of time developing his hands, picking pucks along the boards. Just worked at it and worked at it.”
As for the Jets, they not only put thoughts of consecutive regulation losses for the first time this season in the rearview mirror by sweeping the Canucks, they did it with authority, outscoring their opponent 9-1 in the two-game series.
Instead of seeing things spiral after dropping three of four, the Jets moved into a three-way tie for first place in the North Division with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers.
The brilliant play of Connor Hellebuyck was right at the heart of the matter, even if the score in both games might suggest these were lopsided affairs.
“He’s definitely a big-time or big-stage goalie,” Jets rookie defenceman Logan Stanley said. “He’s been great all year and especially the last two games. We’re glad we have him on our team.”
That might be the ultimate understatement.
When Hellebuyck is as locked in as he was the past two games, it can create doubt in the psyche of the opponent, almost as if it might take a perfect shot or a deflection to beat him.
That’s a scary proposition.
“I'm just continuing on, getting better every day with the details that I've started building from the beginning of the season,” Hellebuyck said.
On deck is a three-game set against a Calgary Flames team that figures to be in full-on desperation mode after dropping consecutive games to the Ottawa Senators.
The Jets can see the light at the end of this tunnel, with 13 of 17 games already played during this hectic month of March, and they’re sitting pretty with a record of 20-11-2.
Instead of falling back into the pack, the Jets have elevated their game and continue to build their collective belief.
“We’re a confident bunch. I would say our confidence isn’t very fragile, it’s real. We believe in ourselves and each other and our process,” Copp said. “Obviously if we lose a few, that confidence is going to wane a little bit. But when we do get on a roll, I don’t think we get overconfident.
“When we’re doing well I feel like we think this is how it should be, which is the sign of a winning team. In my book, you expect these results, you expect to win. I don’t know if there’s a season-high of confidence, but I think we definitely feel good about ourselves, as we should. But we can’t get too high either.”
Sage advice from a guy who knows a thing or two about keeping things in perspective and pushing for greater heights.