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North Pole (Alaska) native Copley finds home in net for Wolves

Wolves goalie Pheonix Copley, center, celebrates with his teammates over a recent victory over the Milwaukee Admirals. (Photo by Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves)

Wolves goaltender Pheonix Copley understands the fascination with his hometown.

When your address includes North Pole, that’s bound to happen.

For Copley, North Pole, Alaska – a community of 2,100 located 14 miles southeast of Fairbanks – is home. For others, including teammates who ask Copley what it’s come from a town where street lights are painted like candy canes and where Christmas is a way of life year-round, North Pole represents much more.

Copley gets it.

“North Pole, when you’re a kid, it’s kind of a fairy land,” Copley said. “At first, people kind of notice it…But it’s just a regular small town up in Alaska.”

Now in his second season of splitting the Wolves’ goaltending duties with Jordan Binnington, Copley has made himself at home. This season, Copley (7-4-2-1) has registered a .911 saves percentage and a 2.43 goals against average entering Wednesday night’s game against the Rockford IceHogs.

At 6-3, Copley’s size makes him an intimidating presence. But his poise has made him a valuable asset as part of the Wolves’ 1-2 goalie combination with Binnington. Copley’s patience has also become an important part of his arsenal – one that requires work, but that has garnered him a pair of NHL appearances with the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues.

“With patience, you’re forcing the shooter maybe to do something he doesn’t want to do,” Wolves coach Craig Berube said. “I think some guys are just naturally (patient), but it’s still something that needs to be worked on. It’s a daily process.”

Copley credits Wolves goaltending coach Stan Dubicki for his improvement. While he possesses natural size, Copley works with Dubicki on his consistency – something that can be difficult while splitting ice time.

The Wolves have displayed a propensity for scoring goals, which takes pressure off of Copley and Binnington. But both goalies want to do their jobs, which keeps them from becoming complacent. The Wolves’ defensive effort in front of Copley has also steadily improved, which pushes Copley to do what he can to hold up his end of the bargain.

“I want to be a guy that helps us win games as well,” Copley said. “I can’t really do much about our goal-scoring so I just worry about trying to keep the puck out of the net.”

Copley also can’t control when he will see more time in the NHL. With each brief stint, Copley focuses on living in the moment without losing sight of what he still needs to do to remain at hockey’s top level on a more permanent basis.

When his time comes, Copley won’t only carry what he’s learned at the AHL level, but will also take part of his hometown with him. Painted on the bottom of Copley’s mask are a pair of candy canes – similar to the ones that line the streets of North Pole.

The paint job is a subtle reminder who Copley is – on and off the ice.

“Some guys like to put a nickname or a number on the chin (of the mask),” Copley said. “I never did that…So (in the NHL) I’ll be wearing a Blues helmet. But the candy canes will still be there.”

Follow me on Twitter @Jeff_Arnold.