Capitals Place Netminder Pheonix Copley On Waivers

The Washington Capitals waived goaltender Pheonix Copley on Monday. If he is not claimed by another team by noon on Tuesday, he will be assigned to the Hershey Bears.

The move is an indication that netminder Zach Fucale is now considered by the Capitals organization as the number three goaltender. Fucale went 9-2-0 with a .932 save percentage and a 1.80 GAA in 11 games played in the 2020-21 season, the best in the AHL.

Copley opened his career in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) with the Corpus Christi IceRays in 2010-11 season. The IceRays were not a very good team and Copley saw a lot of rubber. He made 1210 saves in 42 games played. His goals-against average, 4.17, and save percentage, .880 were not good, but that was also a product of the team in front of him.

The netminder moved to the United States Hockey League (USHL) for the 2011-12 season. He began the campaign with the Tri-City Storm. Copley played in 25 games, posting a 9-13 record. His overall numbers were not terrible and he recorded two shutouts while having a .905 save percentage. He then moved on to the Des Moines Buccaneers in the USHL and saw action in 20 games while in Iowa. His record did not improve with the Buccaneers, but his save percentage was upped to .909 and his goals-against average dropped to 3.09.

Copley committed to play collegiately at Michigan Tech and spent the next two seasons with the Huskies. As a freshman in 2012-13, Copley played 24 games and ended with a record of 8-15-1. Those eight wins were the most on the team, as Michigan Tech won just 13 games that season. He also registered three shutouts during the season.

Copley’s numbers improved during his sophomore season in 2013-14. His goals-against average dropped to 2.51 from 3.22. Copley raised his save percentage from .900 to .911. He was responsible for 13 of the team’s 14 wins.

Following his sophomore season, Copley turned pro and signed as a free agent with the Washington Capitals organization. He played three games for the South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL, going 2-1 with a .906 save percentage.

The Capitals assigned Copley to Hershey for his first full professional season in 2014-15. In 26 games, Copley went 17-4 with three shutouts. His 2.17 goals-against average was the seventh best in the AHL that season. He had a .925 save percentage, also seventh in the league. The Alaskan teamed with Philipp Grubauer as the Bears surrendered the fourth fewest goals in the regular season, 181. The tandem led Hershey to a 100point season and an East Division title. In the Calder Cup playoffs, Copley went 3-1 with a 1.46 goals-against average.

Copley’s rookie season caught the eye of other teams around the NHL and he was ultimately traded to the St. Louis Blues as part of the trade package that brought T.J. Oshie to Washington. He spent the 2015-16 season with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL and compiled a 15-16-3 record with three shutouts. During the season, Copley made his NHL debut, coming in relief in a St. Louis loss to Nashville on February 27, 2016.

Returning to the Wolves for the star of the 2016-17 season, Copley’s numbers improved. He went 15-6-2 in 25 games and raised his save percentage to .922 (was .900 the previous season). His goals against average fell to 2.31 from 2.50. The Blues gave Copley his first career NHL start on January 21, 2017 against the Winnipeg Jets.

At the trade deadline, Copley returned to the Washington organization in the deal that sent Kevin Shattenkirk to the Capitals. He finished out the season in Hershey, playing in 16 games down the stretch. He won 11 of those appearances with a 2.15 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. Copley then went 5-4 in the Calder Cup playoffs while putting up a solid .933 save percentage and 2.15 goals-against average.

Copley was back in Chocolate Town for the 2017-18 season. The campaign was a nightmare for Hershey. The team suffered through their worst season in 25 years. The Bears finished in last place in the Atlantic Division with 69 points and ended 26 points out of the final playoff spot. Looking at his numbers, it looked like a down season for the Michigan Tech product. He had a record of 15-17-4 and his goals-against of 2.91 was the highest of his career. In actuality, he played better than his numbers indicated. Copley and goalie partner Vitek Vanecek were given little help by the team in front of them and the struggles of the team had a lot to do with the down numbers.

The 2018-19 season was a breakthrough for Copley. He spent the entire season in the NHL with the Capitals, serving as Braden Holtby’s backup. He recorded his first NHL victory on October 27, 2018, in a 4–3 shootout win over the Calgary Flames. On the season, Copley won 16 games in 27 appearances. He had one shutout and had a save percentage of .905.

Copley became a victim of Washington’s salary cap issues and returned to Hershey for the 2019-20 season. He teamed with Vanecek to give the Bears one of the top goalie tandems in the AHL. He played in 31 games for the Bears. He earned 17 victories during and recorded two shutouts. He ended the season with a 2.47 goalsagainst average which was 10th in the AHL. He posted a .905 save percentage.

The 2021 season was a unusual one for Copley. He split time between the Washington taxi squad and Hershey. With the Bears, he had an up-and-down campaign. He stared out strong in his first two starts, but then struggled in his next three starts. Copley then fired off six straight wins from March 24 through April 21. He finished his season by going 2-2, ending the season on a high note with a 34 save, shutout over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on May 8. Copley concluded the season with a record of 10-4-1 with two shutouts. He combined with Zach Fucale to earn the Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award given annually to the goalies who give up the fewest goals in the AHL.  

The move reduced the Capitals roster to 33 players. Three goaltenders, 10 defensemen and 20 forwards.

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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3 Responses to Capitals Place Netminder Pheonix Copley On Waivers

  1. novafyre says:

    And Cops just got a dynamite Caps helmet.

  2. Scottlew73 says:

    Very capable goalie,but at this stage/age he may have to pull a “Tim Thomas” & rebuild his numbers & game in Europe for few seasons!

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Fucale has been playing well, and may even nudge Vanecek. I would be surprised if he gets a game or games this season for the Caps. Fucale went 9-2-0 with a .932 save percentage and a 1.80 GAA in 11 games played in the 2020-21 season, the best in the AHL.

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