Ready at a Moment's Notice
Yale's Cooper Picks Up Assists on Grandest Stage
by A.J. Curry/CHN Reporter
PITTSBURGH When given the opportunity to perform on a stage like the NCAA Frozen Four – in front of thousands of fans, a national television audience and NHL scouts galore – some players just find away to take advantage of the moment. Even if those moments present unique, even unpredictable circumstances.
This season, the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh — featuring four teams with a combined zero national championships – epitomizes that script. And, on an individual basis, in Thursday’s first national semifinal, it was freshman center Carson Cooper – along with fellow rookie Mitch Witek – who shone bright under the limelight.
On senior captain Andrew Miller’s game-winning goal, which sent Yale to Saturday night’s national championship game, Cooper – regularly the Bulldogs’ fourth-line center – found himself on the ice with Miller and Kenny Agostino, the only two Yale players to have averaged a point per game during their careers. Cooper shoveled the puck to Miller, who took care of the rest – but Cooper only found himself on the ice in that situation because Miller’s regular center, Pittsburgh native Jesse Root, was cramped up on the bench.
Cooper was playing a strong game until that point – adding an assist on the game’s first goal, which was scored by the defenseman Witek – and so Allain called the Bow Island, Alberta, native’s name.
“Coach was like ‘Coop, you’re going with Ago and Miller,” said Cooper. “I was like, ‘That’s good.’”
In fact, it couldn’t get much better. Agostino and Miller lead Yale in scoring this season.
“Jesse and I actually joke that we’re very similar players out there, just grinding away,” continued Cooper. “I thought it was a good fit. I tried to go out there and play like him and make easy plays for the rest of the line.”
Miller, who scored the game-winner, felt Cooper was more than worthy of stepping up onto the Bulldogs’ most prolific line as well – even if it had only been for a shift.
“Not many college teams can trust two freshman centers taking faceoffs in overtime, but they fit right now,” said Miller of Cooper and fellow rookie Stu Wilson. “[Cooper] had a really good shift before – a really good scoring chance the shift before.”
Cooper credits his – and the team’s collective – ability to handle the pressure of the situation.
“You can’t let the pressure get to you,” said the freshman, whose two assists give him nine total points for the season. “I learned that in juniors – I’ve played in Game 7s before, overtimes before. I’m sure lots of the guys in the room have had that experience before. Going out there, if you’re not calm and gripping your stick, you’re going to make errors.
“You know you’ve just got to relax and play your game. This is why we’ve been it to this level.”
Earlier in the game, Cooper found himself in another unfamiliar situation – playing on the power play, at the tail end of Yale’s first man advantage of the game. During a line change with just seconds remaining on the power play chance, Cooper collected a loose puck and found Witek, whose seeing-eye shot from the point beat UML’s Connor Hellebyuck.
Said Cooper, “I was just fortunate enough to get out there for a couple seconds at the end of their power play, so I’m pretty lucky.”
Cooper’s two assists in Thursday’s national semifinal give him nine total points (one goal with eight helpers) for the season.
Now, on Saturday night, as Yale looks to win its first national title, Cooper will again be penciled in as the reliable fourth line center, where he’s played every game this season.
But, if other opportunities – other moments on this grand stage – arise, it’s clear he’ll be ready.