Blues’ deep goaltending pool has Copley a part of Chicago Wolves goaltending rotation

By Sean Shapiro
Pheonix Copley - Chicago Wolves

Photo: Chicago Wolves goaltender and St. Louis Blues prospect Pheonix Copley played NCAA hockey before turning pro, guarding the net for Michigan Tech University for two seasons before turning pro in 2013-14 (courtesy of Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves)

 

 

Pheonix Copley was a key piece in one 2015’s biggest trades, and he wasn’t even aware it happened.

When the St. Louis Blues shipped T.J. Oshie to the Washington Capitals in exchange for Copley, Troy Brouwer, and a third-round pick, the goalie was embarking on a four-day fishing trip with his family in Alaska.

“I was out of cell phone range for four days, so when it happened I had no idea,” Copley said. “We got back from the trip and I turned on my phone and it was a shocker.”

Copley said he was happy and excited when he found out about the trade. And midway through his first season as a Blues prospect the move has not been a let down for him or the organization.

He is a big yet mobile goalie with long limbs that takes away most of the net. This season with the Chicago Wolves, the Blues’ AHL affiliate, Copley has been working on better utilizing his size and playing the angles.

Copley is also part of a strong goaltending pipeline in St. Louis, and that is pushing the 23-year-old from North Pole, Alaska.

In the NHL, St. Louis seems set in goal through the 2016-17 season. Brian Elliot is only 30, while 25-year-old Jake Allen had been putting together a breakout season before suffering an injury earlier this month.

With a strong 1A-1B situation in St. Louis, the Chicago Wolves have developed a similar system in the AHL.

Copley and fellow prospect Jordan Binnington have shared the net in Chicago, and as of Jan. 18th the numbers were nearly identical. Copley has a 2.72 goals-against average and .907 save percentage in 22 games, while Binnington has posted a .910 save percentage and 2.57 goals-against average. Copley has 10 wins while Binnington has eight as Wolves head coach John Anderson has been willing to use an informal rotation.

“It’s good and it keeps you on the top of your game,” Copley said. “When you have another guy at the same position, it really helps you grow and you have the thought in mind that if you struggle, the team will use the other goalie.”

Both goalies want to play, but Copley said they have a good relationship and help each other during practice.

“That’s how you grow as a player and as a goalie,” Copley said. “(Anderson) told us he believes in both of us and he’s just going to go with whoever is getting the job done.”

While he has been getting the job done on the ice, Copley said there have been some adjustments to the Blues system and life in Chicago.

When he played with the Hershey Bears during the 2014-15 season – and received his first NHL call-up to Washington – Copley was used to bus trips and a lack of overnight stays in the AHL’s Eastern Conference. In the Western Conference, the travel is more difficult.

It is a norm for the Wolves, though, but it is still a unique adjustment for all the Blues prospects. What is it like to live and play in the same city as one of the NHL parent club’s biggest rivals?

“It is a little odd, you could say,” Copley said. “When we play Rockford, the Blackhawks’ farm team, there is a little bit more incentive to beat them. I guess you could say it adds a little bit of heat to that rivalry.”

Follow Sean Shapiro on Twitter via @seanshapiro