As we approach the start of the 2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft starting tonight June 28 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville Tennessee, the Puerto Rico Ice Hockey Association hopes to hear the name of one of its own; Juan Copeland. PRIHA is excited for Juan to be amongst the elite players who fulfill the lifelong dream of making it to the show. Juan Copeland of the OHL's Niagara Ice Dogs is a talented 05 who is ranked #298 by @fchockey and is projected as a late draft pick for NHL teams looking for a hard working off-the-puck goal scoring winger, with good accuracy.
We got to sit down with Juan for a heart to heart about his hockey journey and his road to becoming a Puerto Rico Ice Hockey National Team player. Juan of Fowlerville, MI considers himself a late bloomer who fell in love with the game watching the Chicago Blackhawks cup run of the early to mid aughts. He started his hockey journey playing floor and roller hockey at age 3. By the time he was 5 he shifted to ice hockey where he started playing with Michigan's Ice Cats. Juan considers himself a late bloomer as he ascended into AAA later than most kids who end up playing high level hockey, eventually landing in Michigan's super competitive Tier 1 circuit. He started his AAA campaign with well respected Compuware but Juan recalls fondly the memory of hanging a National Championship banner with storied hockey power Honeybaked where he played about 5 years. Ultimately his youth hockey rewarded him as he was drafted into Canada's OHL (Ontario Hockey League) in 2021, where he plays for the Niagara Ice Dogs.
Juan's connection to the Island comes from his grandparents who are from San Juan, PUR. His grandparents immigrated to the Bronx in their infancy and soon after relocated to Michigan and laid roots. He spoke fondly of his tios, tias, and primos currently residing in Puerto Rico and is very proud of his connection to the island. Which is why... one day scrolling through his social media feed he came across his friend (Logan Cuvo)sporting a PR jersey. Curiosity led him to research what this 'Puerto Rico Hockey thing" was all about, and soon curiosity turned into excitement as he learned through research of the IIHF and PRIHA websites that he qualified to represent the island in competition. He quickly began to network, reaching out to coaching staff and players that were in his hockey network to ask for a tryout and an opportunity to become a PRMNT player.
So far it's a match made in heaven, Juan debuted for PRIHA at Fiesta de Hockey- NYC and was in uniform for the Challenger Series versus the previously undefeated Jamaican side, and it's a good thing he was because after the PRMNT dropped game one, Copeland was an important piece of Puerto Rico's game two victory where he scored a hat-trick and helped knot the series 1-1. Puerto Rico went on to win the series 2-1 in a stunning come from behind game 3 upset of the Jamaica Buffalo Soldiers side who had never suffered a loss until Puerto Rico handed them back-to-back losses in New York City. Asked about his long and winding journey to represent Puerto Rico Juan answered: "Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do this, push through and believe in yourself because putting on that Puerto Rico jersey for the first time is something special... you instantly feel the honor that becomes behind it. I know it makes my family happy and my ancestors proud."
Story by Michael Rosado, firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos courtesy of Katelynn Reiss and Michael Rosado