Leeds Knights: Grant Cooper adjusting fast to new surroundings both on and off the ice

CONSIDERING this is Grant Cooper’s first time playing outside North America, he hasn’t taken long to settle in with Leeds Knights - both on and off the ice.
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Four games in the Yorkshire Cup under head coach Ryan Aldridge has garnered a prolific seven goals for the 26-year-old Canadian.

If he carries on at this rate, he will be giving team-mate Kieran Brown a run for his money as the top points-scorer in NIHL National come the end of the 2022-23 campaign.

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Cooper arrives in England on the back of a promising first season with Reading Royals in North America’s ECHL - two steps down from the NHL - and coming off the back of four impressive years at Clarkson University.

Posting seven goals and 15 assists from 62 games for the Pennsylvania-based Royals is in no way prolific, making his first 12 periods on Yorkshire ice even more impressive.

But the experienced winger is not here for personal gain. He is in West Yorkshire to help the Knights win silverware and he likes what he has seen so far of the potential for doing that.

“I feel I’ve settled in well,” said Cooper after Tuesday’s morning practice at Elland Road. “Everything seems to be going well so far, the guys are great and Ryan is fantastic behind the bench.

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“There’s a bit of nervous excitement I guess, coming over from North America, this is something different. I knew the bigger ice sheets here would give me a little more time with the puck and I’d need to get adjusted.

LEAD ROLE: Grant Cooper - pictured with Reading Royals last season - has impressed during pre-season with Leeds Knights. Picture courtesy of Reading RoyalsLEAD ROLE: Grant Cooper - pictured with Reading Royals last season - has impressed during pre-season with Leeds Knights. Picture courtesy of Reading Royals
LEAD ROLE: Grant Cooper - pictured with Reading Royals last season - has impressed during pre-season with Leeds Knights. Picture courtesy of Reading Royals

“But it’s a case of so far, so good through these first two weekends - it’s definitely a learning curve but I think my age and experience will give me a little advantage over here.”

Of those pre-season Yorkshire Cup games against Hull Seahawks and Sheffield Steeldogs, Cooper got an insight into what he can expect once the regular season swings into action this Saturday when defending league champions Telford Tigers visit Leeds.

Not even the fact his equipment was initially left stranded in Dublin to leave him without kit for the first weekend seemed to phase Cooper.

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“It was fun, especially my first weekend when my equipment was left in Dublin but I suited myself up and just took it in my stride,” he added.

STARTING POINT: Grant Cooper (right) has impressed since hooking up with Leeds Knights ahead of the 2022-23 NIHL National season. Picture:Tony King/Seahawks MediaSTARTING POINT: Grant Cooper (right) has impressed since hooking up with Leeds Knights ahead of the 2022-23 NIHL National season. Picture:Tony King/Seahawks Media
STARTING POINT: Grant Cooper (right) has impressed since hooking up with Leeds Knights ahead of the 2022-23 NIHL National season. Picture:Tony King/Seahawks Media

“It seems to be a little bit more run and gun over here, but with that bigger sheet you get a little more time with the puck and you’re maybe not getting hit so much. Our home sheet is a little smaller, so it’s nice to get into a little bit of contact once in a while but it’s also nice to have a little more time with the puck.”

Settling into second-tier hockey in the UK seems to have come easily to Cooper, something mirrored off the ice, thanks in part to the fact he is living in the same apartment block as several of his new team-mates.

“It’s been good,” admitted. “There are a couple of new things in food and the driving still feels a little bit wonky on the other side of the road but I’ll get used to that.

“It’s a new environment for me, but it’s nice to have been made to feel so welcome.”