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Cooley inspired by Crosby, Ovechkin ahead of 2022 NHL Draft

USNTDP forward could be highest-selected Pittsburgh-area player all-time

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL

Today, a look at center Logan Cooley of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team. NHL.com's full draft coverage can be found here.

Logan Cooley won't ever forget the friendly reception he received from Sidney Crosby when he decided to try hockey for the first time and ultimately become hooked on the game.

 

"I just remember him always laughing, smiling, and kind of just making the game fun," Cooley said. "It's always important to remember it's just a game. It's something that you want to do, and you love to do, so I think enjoying it, having fun and not having it be too serious was important at that age."

Cooley was 5 years old when he stepped on the ice at the Rostraver Ice Garden in Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania, to participate in the inaugural Little Penguins Learn to Play Program in 2008-09, an introductory clinic for children ages 5-9 that provided first-time participants free head-to-toe equipment along with age-appropriate on-ice instruction by certified coaches.

"He has two older brothers (Eric and Riley) who played hockey and he just absolutely loved it, couldn't wait for his turn," said Cathy Cooley, Logan's mother. "He'd play alongside his brothers; that was his life. His stick went everywhere he went as an infant. It was in his car seat and when he started to walk. It was always in his hands. The program was advertised around the rinks and we thought it was a perfect start. He used to dress in his brother's equipment, so to finally fit him in the proper hockey gear was just the thing for us. And the equipment fit perfectly."

Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins' captain, was even on the ice among 100 of those kids who received a golden ticket in their equipment bag. It's estimated the program has outfitted more than 14,000 local children since its inception in 2008.

"I think I just look at that as being really cool, because the purpose of it is to introduce kids to the game and give them the opportunity," Crosby told the Penguins website. "The fact that [Cooley] fell in love with the game and obviously has done really well is awesome to see. But I think at the same time, it's just about getting the opportunity, so I'm glad that it's worked out that way."

Fast forward 13 years and Cooley is expected to become the highest-drafted Pittsburgh-area player in NHL history. The left-handed center (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team is No. 2 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters eligible for the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft. 

"You travel all over the place, watching these different players and different teams and there's just so many hockey players out there from all over the world," said Eric Cooley, Logan's father. "It's just amazing that he's in the conversation as being one of the top players coming out of Pittsburgh."

Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller, who split his childhood between East Palestine, Ohio and Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, holds that distinction after being chosen No. 15 by the New York Rangers in the 2011 NHL Draft. Miller, like Cooley, spent two seasons with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. Forward R.J. Umberger, who was born in Pittsburgh, was selected No. 16 by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2001 NHL Draft.

"It's something that I'd definitely want to have happen, but I know draft day can be crazy too," Cooley said of possibly becoming the highest-drafted Pittsburgh-area player. "I've heard some crazy stories that you can't really control it. So I'm just looking to go there, have fun and not try to think about that too much."

Even crazier, however, is the fact that despite being born and raised in the Pittsburgh area, Cooley's a huge fan of Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin.

"We went to a lot of Penguins games when I was younger, being from West Mifflin (Pennsylvania), and obviously you can't really dislike Sidney Crosby, he's a great guy," Cooley said. "But to be honest, I was kind of a Capitals fan growing up. I really don't know how it happened, but since I was just a little kid, I've liked 'Ovi.'

"He's one of the best players in the world and I like the way he competes. I try to do some of the things he does in his game and put into my game."

Said Cathy: "I don't think we ever admitted this in public before, but he was so passionate about Ovi and loved him so much that it became contagious, just because of Logan and his love for him, that we all became fans of Ovi ... we may be chased out of Pittsburgh after that comment."

Cooley has an Ovechkin jersey and Fathead wall decal. For the record, he also has a Fathead of Crosby and Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane.  

Rooting for Ovechkin in a household full of Penguins fans wasn't easy.

"I grew up with a lot of Pittsburgh fans and was kind of the only one rooting against them," Cooley said with a grin. "Other than that, it was pretty funny just to be around all the Pittsburgh fans and cheering for different teams."

Cooley is a projected top-three selection in the 2022 draft with an opportunity to one day, perhaps, play with or against his boyhood hockey idols. The Montreal Canadiens have the No. 1 pick, the New Jersey Devils hold the No. 2 selection and the Arizona Coyotes have the No. 3 choice.

Video: Go 1-1 with Logan Cooley during the NHL combine

Cooley is committed to the University of Minnesota in 2022-23.

"[Cooley] skates so well and closes gaps when he wants to retrieve pucks, and breaks away when he's got the puck," Central Scouting senior manager David Gregory said. "He's very hard to contain, very hard to limit, and he has this brain that processes the game very quickly.

"You should have your stick on the ice at all times when you're playing with Logan because you may get the puck, or he may fake you the puck, shoot it and score himself."

The 18-year-old was second on the NTDP with 75 points (27 goals, 48 assists) in 51 games. He had 10 points (three goals, seven assists) and 23 shots on goal in six games to help the United States finish second at the 2022 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.

"I'm a complete two-way player, good IQ, and I have good hands," Cooley said. "I have a finishing touch and can make plays under pressure. What do I need to work on? I would say just my physical strength, getting stronger on my skates. When you play against bigger and stronger people you have to be pretty strong. So I would say just maintaining strength and obviously getter stronger on my feet."

Cooley has never been to Montreal but that will change since the 2022 draft is scheduled to be held at Bell Centre. The first round is July 7 and rounds 2-7 will be July 8.

"The draft is a really important part of your career, and it's always in the back of your mind so there's a little bit of pressure," he said. "But pressure is also good for you. I think I'm just trying to play my game, do what I do best and then I'm looking forward to the draft. Hopefully everything falls into place and it'll be a special night for sure."

While Logan has never been to Montreal, his parents have and they look forward to returning to support their son on his big day.

"It's funny ... I handed over a boy to the NTDP and I got a man back," said Cathy, who lived with Logan while he attended the NTDP in Plymouth, Michigan, the past two seasons. "How they've prepared him is truly amazing. I think to myself, 'What happened to that little shy boy?' 

"I mean, it shocks me when I see him do interviews, but it's just how bad he wants it. A couple years ago he had the hockey tools. But what I'm seeing now just shows how hungry he is for this opportunity."

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