Growing up in Pittsburgh as an Alex Ovechkin fan wasn’t always easy for Logan Cooley.
“I definitely have a lot of hate for that,” said Cooley, an 18-year-old center for the United States National Development Team and a top 2022 NHL Draft prospect. was a big fan of Ovechkin. I loved his way of playing. I loved his way of scoring goals. I just saw him with the Caps and became a huge Capitals fan.
Cooley was the only Capitals fan in his group of friends in the heart of Pittsburgh Penguins country. Which made things awkward when the Penguins seemed to have their playoff rivals’ number — until they didn’t.
“Certainly a lot of heartbreak for the Caps fans. But 2018 was a good year,” Cooley said, referring to the playoffs when Washington ran through the Penguins en route to winning the Stanley Cup.
His Ovechkin fandom could be interpreted as a symbol of rebellion or a failure of indoctrination. Cooley got his hockey start through Ovechkin’s nemesis, Sidney Crosby.
“It started out as Sidney Crosby’s Little Penguin, as part of 2004’s [birth year]the first group we had,” said David Morehouse, former Penguins president and executive who helped start Crosby’s youth hockey program in Pittsburgh.
Crosby approached Morehouse with his desire to create a program that would give local athletes who could not afford to play hockey the opportunity to do so. The two sat down to lunch at a Marriott in Pittsburgh and plotted it: Crosby was with Reebok; the Penguins had Dick’s Sporting Goods as a team sponsor; and the captain and his team were ready to deal with their own money.
Thus, “Sidney Crosby’s Little Penguins” were born.
“Sid didn’t grow up as a rich kid. For him, it was important to remove a lot of those financial barriers so kids could try out the game he loves so much,” Morehouse said.
The executive and his captain urged both sponsors to cover every piece of kit the players needed – from head to toe, including their jersey and an equipment bag.
“I remember when we first printed the shirts, the idea was that all the players would wear different numbers,” Morehouse said. “But everyone wanted 87. So every shirt had Sid’s number on it.”
In the first year of the program in 2008, the team enrolled 400 children aged 4 to 7 years old. One of them was Logan Cooley.
“I always grew up around hockey,” Cooley said. “My parents decided to put me in [the Little Penguins] and ever since then, I’ve loved the game.”
He had two uncles who played Division I college hockey. Both of his brothers played — his older brother Eric competed for Ohio State last season.
“I was the first on the Crosby program. I can’t quite remember because I was about 4 years old,” Cooley said. “They gave you free equipment, the chance to skate and have fun there. That’s what I really remember. And then every time you had Crosby there and you learned from it. one of the best players in the world, that’s pretty cool at such a young age.”
Cooley said the program didn’t rely too much on what Crosby was doing on the ice.
“I think everyone in those days was just trying to stand up on their skates,” he said. “But [Crosby] meant a lot. Anytime you might get the chance to learn from Crosby, that’s great. I was lucky enough to see him every night in Pittsburgh. You just have to see how he is as a person and as a player.”
As a player, Cooley imitates Patrick Kane more than Crosby or Ovechkin. He is listed at 5ft 10in, like Kane.
“He being the same height as me, I saw how he used his skill to maneuver around bigger guys,” Cooley said. “How good his hockey IQ is. Such a fun player to watch. I definitely took some stuff from him and used it in my game.”
The NHL today is much friendlier to a player of Cooley’s size than it was when Kane was selected first overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007. Cooley checks off the star names undersized such as Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Hughes and Trevor Zegras who have excelled this season. .
In Zegras’ case, he excelled as a rookie while filling the highlight reel, which Cooley noted.
“He’s a guy that when Anaheim is on, you watch him,” he said. “Especially as a fellow USNDT. The passes he makes. The Michigan he does. He’s not afraid to try anything there and I think I’m that kind of guy too. player.”
The United States National Development Program has hit the board with high frequency in recent NHL Drafts. Luke Hughes went 4th with the New Jersey Devils last year, while Tyler Boucher went 10th with the Ottawa Senators. Jake Sanderson was No. 5 overall at Ottawa in 2020. The Devils beat Jack Hughes at No. 1 in 2019, while the Los Angeles Kings selected Alex Turcotte at No. 5.
Cooley firmly expects to be a top-three pick in the NHL Draft next week, with the first round scheduled for Thursday night in Montreal (7 ET, ESPN).
“It’s a 1-2-3 range. But anything can happen on draft day,” he said. “It’s a weird draft. There’s no No. 1 consensus.”
Montreal has the first pick, followed by the Arizona Devils and Coyotes. If center Shane Wright goes No. 1 as many expect, would Cooley know where he’s headed?
“I don’t know. Does New Jersey want a winger or…?” Cooley thinks. “Honestly, I have no idea. Arizona has shown a lot of interest. But it’s hard to say right now.”
He admits he kept an eye out for fake drafts released before the first round.
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t,” he said. “But it’s something you can’t pay too much attention to because it can get into your head and mess up your game. Now that the season is over, there’s really nothing going on, you can watch them some more .”
Along with those fake drafts come scouting reports on Cooley’s game, which he reads with interest if he doesn’t take them to heart.
“You’re always going to want to watch the good stuff,” he said. “But there are people who say my two-way game is bad, little things like that. So you have mixed feelings. But that doesn’t change me as a player.”
There are aspects of his game he would like to improve before he gets drafted. ” Stronger and stronger. Getting harder and harder to move off the puck,” Cooley said. “I want to keep working on my two-way game, getting even better defensively. And then my shooting. Being able to score from further away. Those are the three things I’m working on to become an even more impactful player in the NHL. .”
Some of that work could happen in a new Pittsburgh-based summer league that Cooley is participating in.
Minnesota has the “Da Beauty League”. Pittsburgh didn’t have a summer league for its NHL players, so the GOAT League started this summer. Cooley played in a few games. Vancouver Canucks center JT Miller, Carolina Hurricanes center Vincent Trocheck and Buffalo Sabers center Zemgus Girgensons are among the NHL participants.
“I skated with them a bit last summer,” Cooley said. “I spoke with them a bit. Not really about the draft or anything like that.”
Miller holds the distinction of being the Pittsburgh area’s highest-drafted player, having finished 15th overall for the New York Rangers in 2011.
“Not for long,” Miller told the Penguins website, referring to Cooley. “I heard he was leaving quite early so I’m happy for him. I heard he’s a hell of a player and I’m delighted to watch him. It’s good to see all the talent coming out continuously from Pittsburgh.”
Especially now that little penguins are becoming big hopes.