The USA headed to the semi-finals of the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship following a 13-3 victory over Latvia in the quarter-finals.
“We wanted to a quick start, get on them as early, put as many in as possible and then play the right way. I think we did that,” said centre Logan Cooley, who only scored one of his team’s goals in the game, but it was memorable.
At 12:52 of the first period, Cooley welcomed Latvian backup goalie Linards Feldbergs to the game and gave his team a 5-0 lead by scoring a lacrosse-style goal that is known in American hockey circles as “the Michigan,” a move made famous by Michigan Wolverines player Mike Legg in 1996.
“I felt like it was the right moment there, behind the net,” said Cooley. “I’ve been wanting to try that now for a long time and luckily, it went in.”
According to Cooley, he has attempted the move in a game before a couple of times but that’s the first time he’s successfully done it. According to teammates, he’s practiced it a lot.
“I saw from the bench,” said U.S. defenceman Seamus Casey. “I wasn’t very surprised because he tries it a lot in practice. It was almost routine, but it was definitely cool to see it in a game.”
Through four games, Cooley has seven points, which ties him for fifth in tournament scoring with seven other players. Projected to be one of the top picks at this summer’s NHL Entry Draft, he hasn’t blown away the field offensively, but that’s not really his focus.
“I’ve played okay, I’d say,” he hesitated. “We’re focused on the team right now; on winning a gold medal. As the tournament goes on, I’d like to continue to play better and help the team play better too, but we’re not really focused on individual stuff.”
Pressed on his strengths as a hockey player, Cooley reluctantly said: “I’d say my two-way game, my skating and my IQ. I think when I use those to my advantage, I’m a pretty good player, so those are the things I’ve been working on.”
Head coach Adam Nightingale is less hesitant about stating the importance of Cooley to the team.
“He does a lot of things away from the puck,” said Nightingale. “He’s a guy that’s keyed on by other teams and he finds a way to be great on both sides of the puck. He’s a team guy too and that’s what I really love about him. His heart’s in it for the team and that’s pretty uncommon when you’re that highly touted.”
One of the advantages that the US team has over the other teams, besides the immense talent, is the fact that the players have all been together now for the better part of two seasons. Pretty well all season, Cooley has centred a line that includes Jimmy Snuggerud and Cutter Gauthier.
“Earlier in the year, lines would get switched up a bit, but most of the year I’ve played with those guys and I think we work really well with each other,” said Cooley.
“They’re both great players,” Gauthier said about Cooley and Snuggerud. “Honestly, it’s really easy to play with both of them. Great passers, give-and-goes, both have great shots and can skate with the puck.”
Last year, playing on home ice in Frisco, Texas, the USA had only one regulation-time win in five games and finished fifth at the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. Breaking a streak of 16 straight medals at the tournament, including nine golds, it was the team’s worst finish since 2001.
“It was a good experience playing with the older guys,” Cooley said a year later in Landshut, Germany. “I learned a lot and saw how tough it is to win this tournament. To be able to come back and hopefully win a gold medal is our goal right now.”
Cooley was one of seven underagers on last year’s American team and they’re all back a year later with something to prove, and so far they’ve done that. Through four games, the USA outscored their four opponents 37-10 and now await Czechia in the semi-finals.
Back in 2001, it was somewhat of a novelty when Pittsburgh-born R.J. Umberger was drafted 16th overall in the NHL Entry Draft. Since then, players like John Gibson, Brandon Saad, Vincent Trocheck and J.T. Miller have made Western Pennsylvania somewhat of a hockey player factory. But that stands to reason with the great teams the Pittsburgh Penguins have had over recent decades, with legendary players to idolize such as Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Sidney Crosby and Yevgeni Malkin.
“I was actually a fan of the Washington Capitals,” Cooley laughed. “Yeah, it’s crazy. I got a lot of hate for it, but I’m a big Ovechkin fan, so I watched them a lot. But of course, I watched the Penguins too. Any chance you get to watch a player like Crosby, you take it.
“Hockey in the Pittsburgh area continues to grow and it’s pretty cool to see all the players that are coming out of there now.”
That includes Cooley’s family.
“My two older brothers both played hockey. One played at Ohio State this past year,” he said. “Then I have two uncles – one at Colorado College and one at Notre Dame. We have a big hockey family.”
Next season, following the Draft in June and the IIHF World Junior Championship in August, Cooley plans to follow a family tradition and play college hockey.
“That’s the plan right now. I just de-committed from Notre Dame recently and committed to (the University of) Minnesota,” said Cooley. “One of the reasons I committed there is because I think we’re going to have a heck of a team next year, and hopefully make a run at the national championship.”
There will also be several players there he knows with the Golden Gophers, including current USA teammates Snuggerud, Ryan Chesley and Cruz Lucius. “I also know Matthew Knies and Brock Faber a little bit from playing in the World Juniors with them. I know a good amount of people there and it should be fun.”
Of course, some sources are projecting Cooley to be drafted as high as No. 2 this summer. For players picked that high, it’s not uncommon to jump directly to the NHL. So, regardless of where he’s taken, is he going to the University of Minnesota next season, no matter what?
“I wouldn’t say ‘no matter what’ but, for right now, that’s the plan.” he said. “Of course, whatever team drafts me, I’ll listen to what they have to say and what they think is best for me.”
But before any of that, there’s still business to take care of in Landshut. Two more games this weekend, starting with Saturday’s semi-final game against Czechia. When the teams met in the group stage, the USA won 6-2 but the Czechs led 1-0 after one period and many of the American players feel it was their toughest game so far.
“They’ve got a really good power play and some good players we’ve gotta be aware of,” said Cooley. “But if we keep playing the way we’ve been playing and stick to our identity, we’ll like the outcome.”