EDMONTON – The first moment he walked back into the Rogers Place facility, David Kope felt like he was coming home.
Joining the Griffins men's hockey team as a rookie last season, he returned to the place where he once wore Edmonton Oil Kings silks and walked the hallways of one of the premium hockey facilities in the world.
Although the Griffins' home is in the attached Downtown Community Arena – where the Oil Kings and Oilers also practice – the experience has been a bit surreal for Kope, who is now in his second season at MacEwan.
"It's weird," he explained. "I see some of the coaches around the rink that used to coach me. It's sweet. It's a really great facility. It's a little different because we don't play at Rogers, we play at the Downtown Community Arena, but it's still a great facility and it's great to be back. It feels like home."
Kope will lead the Griffins (2-2-0) into a weekend home-and-home series vs. Mount Royal University (3-2-1) on Friday in Calgary (7 p.m.) and at home on Saturday (5 p.m., Downtown Community Arena, both Canada West TV).
The Edmontonian amassed 95 points in 199 games over three seasons with the Oil Kings (2017-20) before finishing his Western Hockey League career with the Kelowna Rockets (15 points in 16 games in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season).
When the Oil Kings won the WHL championship last season, Kope was able to be in the stands cheering them on.
"It was amazing to see," he said. "I had an opportunity to go to a few games and see some of the guys. I was super excited for all of them. I still have a lot of really good friends on the team like Carter Souch, Jake Neighbours, (Dylan) Guenther, (Sebastian) Cossa – a bunch of great guys on that team – so I was super happy to see them bring a championship back to Edmonton. It was cool to see."
Kope is making his own impact with the Griffins. After getting his feet wet at the U SPORTS level in his rookie campaign in 2021-22 with nine points in 12 games, he's been a difference maker for the team this season with four assists in their first four games.
David Kope lines up against Regina's Kolton Shindle in a game earlier this month (Joel Kingston photo).
"He's someone we brought in with expectations of bringing offence to our program," said interim head coach Zack Dailey. "He had a very good Western League career. As you know, it takes a little bit of time to adjust.
"He's off to a good start offensively and he's put in some work to his all-around game as well. He's working hard in practice and competing hard, so we've been really happy with Dave so far."
Not only has Kope come full circle in returning to the building where he played the bulk of his junior career, he's also reliving some childhood memories. Growing up in the Whitemud West and Canadian Athletic Club organizations, he's been reunited this season on a line with former WW and CAC teammate Marc Pasemko, who transferred to MacEwan from Colorado College.
"I used to play with Marc Pasemko back in peewee and atom and growing up we were on the same team, so there's already a little bit of chemistry there," said Kope. "It's been nice to play with him again this year."
Kope and the Griffins are coming off a bye week as they head into another tough series against MRU, who have become a perennial contender in recent seasons. After scoring the program's first win in their Canada West era over the defending conference champion Alberta Golden Bears two weeks ago, the Griffins are riding in with confidence they can play with anyone.
But they need to bring their top level for 60 minutes, not 30 or 40.
"Consistent is the biggest key word," said Dailey. "We have stretches where we're a pretty good hockey team and then there's stretches where we get away from our game plan, we stop moving our feet and turn over a bunch of pucks.
"So, (we need to) just make sure we stick to our game plan and compete hard against these guys. They're a great team with a lot of skilled forwards, a good goalie, good defence. They play on a bigger ice, which is kind of an adjustment for us. I think if we are consistent with the effort and game plan we want to put forth, then we will have some success."