By Greg Bates
GREEN BAY – Growing up, Grady Coppo said he 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, a recent graduate of De Pere High School, also played for the Green Bay Bobcats 18U team.
A big reason why is his grandfather, 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 Olympic men’s hockey team, three U.S. National Teams and was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004.
“People come up to me and ask, ‘Wasn’t your grandpa in the Olympics?’” Grady said. “It’s neat, but sometimes I take it for granted. When I think about it more, it’s pretty crazy.”
Grady said he enjoys listening to his grandpa’s stories about hockey.
“Hearing stories when I was younger from the Olympics, the Bobcats and the people my grandpa and dad have met, it inspired me to play and pursue hockey,” Grady said. “The many stories I’ve heard from my grandpa are good ones.”
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 said.
John Coppo, Grady’s dad and Paul’s son, also coaches the De Pere Voyageurs boys’ high school team.
“Any time Paul is around, they talk hockey,” John said. “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 my dad tells him something.”
Hockey has always been important in the Coppo family.
“It’s been big in our family since my dad played with Portage Lake in the 1950s,” John said. “Then it came to me, and I had my brief career with high school and juniors and a touch in college. Grady is on the upswing of how this development style in hockey goes. It’s neat to see the history he’s been brought up that I went through. It’s been a special bond between all the boys.”
Another tie that bonds 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 of 559 points.
Paul then coached the Bobcats for four years (1971-75), winning United States Hockey League (USHL) coach of the year in 1974-75.
He 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.
“We played with the Bobcats when we were out of college, so it was a semi-pro operation,” Paul said. “To have those guys represent the Green Bay Bobcats team, it’s exciting. It’s a bonus when I have a grandson playing.”
Grady said it was interesting playing for the Bobcats because of the history with his family.
During the winter months, Paul heads to Florida to enjoy the warmth.
While in the south, he isn’t removed from his family and hockey.
He’s been able to watch the Voyageurs on YouTube.
“He would call up and say, ‘This is great – I get to watch the games.’” John said. “He enjoys watching good hockey. He enjoys watching his grandsons play.”
Grady said he 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 wants to live up to the Coppo name.
“Any time I’m playing and have a good or bad game, I know my name is represented by how I play or how I act on the ice,” he said. “I try to be positive and do the best I can to represent the name well. All three of us – my grandpa, my dad and I – represent the last name as well as we can. So far, we’ve done that. Hopefully, generations will do it after us.”