Taylor Cooper’s first Western Hockey League goal came easily. It was the second one that took some patience.
Now that he’s got that troublesome marker out of the way, the 17-year-old Brandon Wheat Kings rookie is showing the form that made him one of the top scorers in the Alberta AAA Midget Hockey League last season.
The left-winger from Sherwood Park scored the Wheat Kings’ first goal of the season, less than five minutes into his first WHL game. He didn’t find the net again until Dec. 15, but has been making up for lost time lately, with four goals and two assists in his last seven games.
"There was the odd joke going around that I would score 72 goals, but I knew it was going to be a tough year as a first-year player," Cooper said of his opening tally.
"(Having recent success) raises my confidence a lot and after Christmas I kinda feel like a different player, getting used to the schedule and how much we play and practice."
Heading into tonight’s home game against the Medicine Hat Tigers, Cooper has five goals and six assists in 34 games. With team scoring leader Alessio Bertaggia away at the world junior hockey championship and fellow freshmen Jayce Hawryluk and John Quenneville at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, Cooper has taken advantage of his increased opportunity and helped to fill the void.
"I think Taylor’s improved as the season’s gone on," Wheat Kings head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk said. "He’s progressed very well. We all knew that Taylor had a knack for the net. He had a little bit of an offensive upside (and) he could shoot the puck very well. … He’s learned what he had to do day-to-day on and off the ice to become a Western Hockey League player. He plays the game honest and I think he’s starting to see some of those rewards for sure."
With Bertaggia still away with the Swiss team, while Hawryluk (ankle) and Quenneville (groin) are recovering from injuries suffered at the U-17 event, the Wheat Kings (14-22-2-2) will need continued contributions from Cooper.
In fact, they’ll be looking for bigger contributions from everyone tonight after finishing their Alberta road trip on Wednesday with a woeful 10-2 defeat at the hands of the Calgary Hitmen.
Cooper believes the key to coming back strong from that game is hard work and keeping the belief that the team can win.
"We put (the loss against the Hitmen) away and it has to come from within our team to come out in the next game and have the confidence to play as hard as you can," he said.
ONE-TIMERS: D Rene Hunter has returned to the Wheat Kings after missing more than a month while on a personal leave … Hawryluk and Quenneville will both return from Quebec later today … LW Mike Ferland and RW Jason Swyripa, who missed Wednesday’s game with upper-body injuries, were limited in practice on Friday, wearing non-contact jerseys. D Eric Roy sat out the main portion of yesterday’s practice on what was termed a maintenance day, but did take part in the earlier power-play session … C Tyrel Seaman (concussion) is also on Brandon’s injury list … The Wheat Kings’ annual family skate follows tonight’s game.