On Sunday afternoon, Corey Koop will, officially, go home.
The 20-year-old netminder from Squamish, B.C., who originally arrived in Winkler to play in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League in August of 2011, will lead his Steinbach Pistons into the first Western Canada Cup in Nanaimo on Sunday afternoon.
The surprising Pistons will open the Western Canadian Jr. A championship against the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League champion Yorkton Terriers at 4 p.m. CDT. We say “surprising” because at the start of the 2012 -13 season, nobody, not even the most optimistic member of Pistons organization, believed this once sad-sack outfit from Steinbach would make the playoffs let alone win the Manitoba Junior Hockey League championship.
After all, during the 2011-12 season, there were games when head coach Paul Dyck had only 12 skaters and maybe a half a real goaltender.
But then, a local ownership group bought out the previous owner Mel Sonnenberg and Dyck was allowed to build a winner. He started slowly, but by the time the roster freeze rolled around in January, he had acquired some solid veteran hockey players. He picked up 20-year-old sniper Richard Olson from Swan Valley, got 20-year-old playmaker Myles Nykoluk from the Virden Oil Capitals and then acquired the two best players from last-place Neepawa – 20-year-old centre Justin Dalebozik and 20-year-old goaltender Corey Koop.
Suddenly, the Pistons were a threat. However, it wasn’t until Koop played MVP hockey in the playoffs that it became evident that Steinbach had the best team in the MJHL.
Now, this once unheralded Steinbach club will take on four other very good hockey teams for the right to play in RBC Cup tournament in Prince Edward Island.
“Words can’t describe how excited I am with the win and the chance to go home to play,” said Koop, who indeed won the playoff MVP award as Steinbach took out Dauphin in six games in the MJHL’s Turnbull Cup championship series.
“I couldn’t be happier that Steinbach decided to pick me up. I have nothing bad to say about Neepawa. The fans there were great, the town was great, the billets were great. There was nothing wrong with Neepawa. It’s just that the hockey team was struggling and they had to make some decisions. I’m glad that I was acquired by Steinbach.”
Koop was born and raised in British Columbia, right across the straight from Nanaimo, in Squamish. However, his parents are both Manitobans. His mom, the former Colleen Schellenberg from Steinbach, has been a huge supporter of Corey’s career and when the Neepawa Natives decided it was time to dispatch of a few 20-year-olds in order to stockpile younger players for the future, Koop had an opportunity to move to a city that is loaded with relatives and friends.
“My grandma is here in Steinbach, I have all sorts of aunts, uncles and cousins here,” Corey said. “It’s a great place. I’m really happy with my situation right now.”
Koop played in 31 games with the Winkler Flyers last year, his first season in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. He went 22-10-0 with a .900 save percentage and a 3.36 goals against average.
This year, he had a 3.42 goals against average and a sensational .921 save percentage in 28 games with Neepawa and then went 8-7-0 in with a 2.58 GAA and a .923 save percentage in 16 games with the Pistons.
In the playoffs, however, he was terrific. In 19 playoff games, Koop went 12-7-0 with two shutouts. He had a 2.46 goals against average and a .924 save percentage. His post-season play caught the eye of a couple of Division 1 NCAA hockey programs and if he can play as well in Nanaimo, there is no telling what kind of interest he might draw.
After all, he’s a big goaltender (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) who skates well, covers a lot of space, challenges shooters and simply enjoys playing the game.
“I’ve had a good season,” said Koop, who has often said he’d one day like to be a firefighter. “I know my goals against could be better, but my save percentage is good and I feel I’ve played well.
“I’ve already played a lot more games this year than I did last year and I feel I had a good year overall. It’s the most consistent hockey I’ve ever played.”
In the meantime, he’ll keep his options open for next year and he might even make Steinbach home. At least, until he decides where he’s going to go to school and play hockey next season.
“My dream has always been to play Division 1 NCAA hockey,” said Koop who finished high school a year ago. “I’ve been talking to a couple of Division III schools and I have some opportunities in Canada, but now I have an advisor and a couple of Division 1 schools have made contact.
“The important thing now is to play well in the Western Canada Cup and the rest of it should take care of itself.”