Young Marblehead hockey star gets ready to start pro career with Penguins affiliate

Hockey is definitely a family tradition in Matt Koopman’s family. His older twin brothers Ben and Tom were on the 2011 Marblehead High School state championship team, along with cousin Jake Kulevich. Matt’s twin brother Kyle played on the same Providence College team with him for four years and now Matt is following in Jake’s footsteps as a pro. Matt’s maternal grandfather is Alex Kulevich, former MHS athletic director and football coach.

Marblehead’s Matt Koopman is shown playing for the Providence College Friars during his collegiate career, and now it’s onto the pros and the West Virginia Nailers in the ECHL, a minor league affiliate of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. COURTESY PHOTO

Jake finished up his pro career a couple of years ago in the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers organization as a member of the American Hockey League’s Bakersfield (California) Condors, while Matt is just beginning his pro career in the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins organization as a member of the Wheeling Nailers, out of West Virginia, in the ECHL (East Coast Hockey League).

Matt got his start in hockey with the Middlesex Islanders until he reached high school age, when he went on to play two years with the MHS hockey and baseball Magicians, before attending the Berkshire School in the western part of the state to play both sports at the prep level. 

“A prep school coach really pushed me to try and do both in college, but I ultimately decided to put everything I have into hockey and see where it takes me,” Matt said.

Marblehead’s next pro hockey player Matt Koopman

Hockey was ultimately his favorite sport to play. “I always had a passion for hockey starting at a young age,” he said. “All my brothers played it, as well as my cousin Jake Kulevich, and so after watching them play in high school I wanted to be like them.

“Jake continues to be someone I look up to after also seeing him go on to play college and professional hockey,” added Matt.

“I had a coach tell me when I was 13 or 14 that I had potential, but you don’t want to be the best at that age, because that doesn’t matter. So, from that point on, I really put the work in to better myself both on and off the ice.”

Matt loves the competitive aspect of hockey, not to mention the connections a player makes along the way. “I’ve been lucky to play on some great teams over the years, and those teams always had a great group of guys,” he said.

As a junior hockey player for the Waterloo Black Hawks, Matt was on defense at times, but mostly he has been either a center or a left winger throughout the rest of his career to date. He currently sees action at both forward positions. But his days as a defenseman gave him a different perspective, and that made him a better player.

“I like playing left wing the most, because I’m someone that likes to play with speed,” he said. “It also allows me to forecheck and be physical on the other team’s defensemen.”

After wrapping up his collegiate career with UMass Amherst in the spring, Marblehead’s Matt Koopman is skating for the West Virginia Nailers of the ECHL, a minor league affiliate of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. He recently re-signed with the Nailers to play there again this coming season beginning next month with the start of training camp.

It was his time in juniors that made him think he could play at the pro level. “My last year of juniors (2018-19) had some success (8 goals, 17 assists), and that really gave me confidence I could play at the Division 1 college level,” he said. “I never really thought about the pros. I mean as a kid you always dream about playing in the NHL, but for me it was always a goal of mine to play in Hockey East, and that was my main focus. Once my college career was over, I knew I still wanted to keep playing, and knew I had more hockey left to give, so I decided to make the jump to the pros (this past spring with the Nailers after his UMass season was over), and I’m excited to get started again (after re-signing with them recently).”

Playing for both Providence and UMass Amherst in Hockey East was an awesome experience, according to Matt. He was able to play close to home to have his parents and grandparents there at every game, which was really special for him.

“There are no easy games in Hockey East, so you really have to be at your best all the time and that starts in practice,” said Matt. “At both Providence and UMass Amherst, we got pushed every day, and that’s where you really see yourself mature.

“There was some great atmosphere at the rinks throughout the league,” he continued. “My favorite place to play was at Boston College’s Conte Forum, because I knew I would always have a lot of friends and family at those games, and they also had a great student section.”

Most of all, Matt will never forget playing with his twin brother Kyle at Providence. 

“Being able to play with my twin brother at Providence is something I’ll always cherish,” he said. “Watching him always motivated me to push myself and fight through tough times. He’s someone that gets along with everybody. He was the ultimate teammate, and I’ll always take that with me in order to be a good teammate first and foremost.”

Matt’s college statistics were a very consistent 20 goals and 21 assists. But now, it’s time to turn that page and begin a new chapter as a pro.

“I signed with the Wheeling Nailers, Pittsburgh’s ECHL affiliate, after the UMass season ended in the spring,” he said. “The goal is always to work your way up, but I’m just focused on getting my body ready to play a long 72-game schedule after re-signing with them recently, while also fine-tuning my skills this past off-season.”

There’s no timetable for Koopman in terms of a lengthy playing career. He just loves playing the game, and as long as that’s still there he will continue to play.

“I’m lucky to have my parents — Doug and Mary Jo —  and family. They have supported me throughout my entire career, and I wouldn’t be in this position without them,” he said. “Hockey is a tough sport. You really can’t get too high or too low. I’ve really learned that over the years. You just have to make sure you have fun doing it, because in the end you can’t play forever, so for me I try and have a positive attitude, and enjoy each and every moment.”

There’s always the question for any athlete on what they should do after retirement. But Matt has that figured out with degrees in the social sciences at Providence, and business analytics at UMass. Those majors could take him into related careers, but then again coaching is also something he has thought about, and maybe even a position in sales if his older brothers have a say in his future. But right now, he’s a Nailer ready to take that next step in his playing career.

Joe McConnell | + posts

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: