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MELBOURNE, Australia — When Logan Cooley declined an invitation to take part in a USA Hockey camp this summer, he ruffled some feathers. Cooley had seven goals and 14 points in his previous World Junior Championship. He would have been a key cog in the United States’ upcoming efforts to recapture gold after two straight years of disappointment.
What the critics did not know was that Cooley was still pondering turning pro even though he had already announced that he would return for his sophomore season at the University of Minnesota. The decision was weighing heavily on his mind.
“I’ve obviously been to a lot of World Junior camps,” he said. “I’ve played in three. One got canceled so it doesn’t really count, but I felt like I’d done a lot for USA Hockey. It was nothing against USA Hockey. I just needed a little mental break and honestly, more time to make a decision that was really tough for me. I had a lot of voices in my ear.”
Cooley evaluated the information coming from all of those voices, including his agent, Scott Bartlett, Golden Gophers coach Bob Motzko, and Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong. But he also went back to his roots.
“I took a nice vacation with my family,” he said. “We have a lake house in Deep Creek, Maryland that we went to. I played a lot of golf with my brothers and some of my buddies back home.”
He also dove into the offseason program that Coyotes head performance coach Mitch Stewart gave him.
“I did that program from A to Z and put on a lot of pounds,” Cooley said. “I still feel fast, too, so I was happy with the way that turned out and happy with the way my summer training went, on and off the ice.”
While others wanted Cooley to sacrifice a portion of his summer, his closest advisors suggested he dedicate this summer of major transition to himself in order to prepare for the rigors of the NHL.
“He needed to prioritize getting stronger,” Bartlett said. “If you take out two and a half more weeks for that camp, it’s a significantly less amount of lifting.”
Cooley era arrives
Cooley will play his first NHL game on Saturday when the Coyotes face the Kings in the NHL Global Series at Rod Laver Arena. The Coyotes won’t be able to control the hype surrounding perhaps the most anticipated prospect in franchise history, but they do intend to control their own expectations, and they hope to control Cooley’s.
“I have zero expectations,” coach André Tourigny said. “Part of my job will be to manage his expectations, not my expectations. For me, the objective is not for him to have a certain number of points. The objective is to make him a good championship player.
“A good championship player can not play only one way. He has to be useful to the team in a number of situations. One of those is offensive, yes, but one of those is defensive. One of those is managing the game and making the right decision in the right situation. Discipline, controlling emotion and being able to bounce back from poor performance — all of that will be the goal with Logan Cooley.”
Armstrong’s job is even more holistic in scope.
“As an organization, we often think about raising our children properly and bringing them along at the right pace,” he said. “It’s not about how great they are as a 2-year-old. It’s about getting them to the point where they can leave the house and be completely independent. That’s when you know you have done your job properly.
“We try to find them a good place to live. We try to give them a good environment and we try to give them the right expectations. You don’t want to beat the offense and creativity out of them where they only play defense. Obviously, his impact can be a little bit on the offensive side, but he does have new responsibilities at this level where you’re not gonna get away with what you got away with in college.
“Some guys come in and they crush it. Some guys creep on it; slowly getting better. Whatever his path might be, as an organization, we have to do the right thing behind the scenes and make sure that we nurture him and get him to grow.”
One of the things the Coyotes will do to nurture Cooley is protect him in certain situations. It also appears that they are putting veteran Jason Zucker on his line to help shepherd him through the early stages of his career and learn to manage those emotions that came to a head late in the NCAA Championship game.
One thing they apparently won’t have to worry about is a sense of entitlement.
“He’s obviously a high prospect but you see his work ethic every day, his mentality, his approach,” center Nick Bjugstad said. “It’s not easy to come into the league when you’re a young player, let alone 19. What separates him from a lot of 19-year-olds is how he handles his business. He’s a hard worker and he doesn’t seem like he’s going to want anything handed to him. That’s an impressive thing I have seen so far this week.”
Just like he was soaking up advice this summer, Cooley is soaking up a lot of advice in camp. He is trying to balance that advice with his own expectations, but he knows that it will be a learning curve.
“I’m super competitive,” he said. “I’ve always had high expectations for myself going to the hockey rink. I want to help this team win as many games as possible. I want to contribute to the team in any way possible, but yeah, I do want to put up big numbers, I do want to compete every night and I want to win the Calder Trophy. The reason I turned pro is because I felt ready to take the next step and I’m confident in my abilities to do those things that I want to accomplish this year.
“But for sure, I know there’s more to it and I think that’s not just at the pro level. That’s something that I had to think about in college, too. If you think about putting up points then you’re not focusing on doing the other things that make my game what it is. You’ve got to play the defensive side of the puck and that leads to offense.”
The first chapter of the Logan Cooley era begins Saturday, and all Coyotes’ eyes will be watching. Fortunately for Cooley, he has a litany of quality veterans to help him — Bjugstad, Zucker and Matt Dumba among them. He also has a coach whose reputation was built on developing young players while forging strong relationships with them.
“For me, it’s more about soaking in the information and the environment,” Tourigny said. “I want to see how he can assimilate taking in the information and adjust his game, adjust his play and how that will affect how he’s used to playing.
“I will learn to know him. He will learn to know me. We will work together. He’s a great kid to be around so far.”
Top photo via Getty Images
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