Wings' Draper thankful for Calgary 'grandparents'

Red Wings' Kris Draper is thankful for the help he received from his Calgary 'grandparents'. (QMI...

Red Wings' Kris Draper is thankful for the help he received from his Calgary 'grandparents'. (QMI Agency files)

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:16 PM ET

You don't play for more than two decades in the National Hockey League without having a few people help you along the way.

For Kris Draper two of the most important people live right here in Calgary where he arrived 23 years ago in search of the most unlikely of dreams.

And every time he returns to the city he left home for as an ambitious 16-year-old midget star he still insists on calling or visiting Murray and Mary Copot to remind them of just how much they've meant to him.

Both in their 80's and iconic Calgary hockey parents/volunteers in their own right, the Copots delight in hearing from their former housemate who they've watched transform from a wide-eyed teen to a four-time Stanley Cup winner.

"It was special what they did for me," said the 39-year-old Red Wings centre before Friday's game at the Saddledome.

"I finished playing midget hockey in Toronto and came here to play two years with Dave King and Guy Charron and the (now defunct) Olympic program. Murray and Mary were awesome - they opened up their house and they were really like another set of grandparents for me. They were a big part of helping me - cooking me meals and doing my laundry. Anything. I look back and have always been very thankful for that."

While most Canadians in the NHL cherish the generosity and support afforded to them by billets while playing junior, few stay in regular contact with them for 21 years, offering tickets for every Calgary game, sending Christmas cards and touching base to share many of life's monumental moments.

"When something good happened in my career, like winning the Cup, they'd call and I'd always send them photos of me with the Cup for their rec room," said the Wings' assistant captain, one of the game's true good guys, respectfully referring to the Copots as "Mr. and Mrs."

"They were so kind and influential. To open their house up to a complete stranger -- they didn't know what they were getting."

Little did the Copots know they were getting someone who would make them so happy and proud.

It's a tough time for the Copot's these days as Murray was recently moved into a local hospice to better help him deal with growing health issues. Yet, as he's done so often, Draper brightened their day Friday when he got in touch with both Copots.

"Murray had a very good day yesterday -- he wasn't in pain and they talked for quite awhile," Mary said.

"Kris is still our adopted grandson, and we've always been very proud of him and his family. That little one he put in the Stanley Cup for a photo years back isn't so little anymore."

Draper spent two years with Team Canada's touring team before making the rare jump to the AHL and the NHL before joining the Ottawa 67's in 1990. Called up from the AHL just 20 times over the next three seasons, he was sold to the Wings for $1, sparking a lengthy career as one of the game's true leaders.

Just the fifth man to play 1,000 games for the Wings, the consummate grinder has four Stanley Cup rings, one Selke Trophy and played for Canada at the 2006 Olympics - all of which is well documented in the Copot's rec room.

"I get on the phone, and you know when you're talking to your grandparents and both are on the phone? Same thing," beamed Draper.

"They always ask about my wife Julie because I started dating her when I was living with them. They ask about the kids."

A former president of the Alberta Amateur and Calgary minor hockey associations, Copot's contributions to the game prompted the city to name an arena after him. Yet a much bigger source of pride for Copot are his grandchildren, which includes Calgary Flames farmhand Ryan Stone.

"Years ago, Murray would say 'you're going to play against my grandson,'" smiled Draper.

"He's a proud grandfather, and he'd always let me know about Ryan's progress and I'd always ask about him."

Murray's association with the game started over 60 years ago when tying son Terry's skates at the outdoor rink in Briar Hill. From there, he helped make the ice and built a makeshift shed for the rink before embarking on more than five decades of service to the game.

He is as beloved in Calgary's hockey community as he is by the Drapers, which is a comforting thought at a time like this.

"We can't avoid it," said Mary of her husband's mounting health challenges.

"He'll be on another journey where he and some of his buddies will be organizing a hockey team."

A team Draper will forever be proud to be a part of.

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Eric Francis appears regularly as a panelist on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada


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