Leeds Knights: Grant Cooper happy to add leadership qualities for 2022-23 NIHL National season

GRANT COOPER may only be one year into his pro career - but he is expected to bring plenty of leadership and experience to a young Leeds Knights team next season.

One season with Reading Royals in the ECHL produced the steep learning curve the 26-year-old winger expected, but it was an education he was happy to continue having just spent four enlightening years at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York.

Even before he had secured a spot on the Royals’ roster for 2021-22, the Ontario native had thought about continuing his career outside of North America at some point.

There were options to remain in North America for 2022-23 - Cooper was traded to ECHL rivals South Carolina Stingrays in June - but once he became aware of interest from the Knights, the Ontario native was keen to make the deal happen.

“The idea of going overseas after my first year as a pro is something I had already thought about,” said Cooper. “So when Leeds approached and sent that offer in I was excited that a team overseas - no matter where it was - wanted to give me a chance and see what I had to offer and I’m very excited to go over there.

“It’s a big thing for me, my first time playing abroad. I was fortunate enough to sign my first year pro last year in Reading and it was a great experience, a good learning curve for me to get my feet wet in the pro atmosphere.

“Then I just felt it was right for me to move over to the bigger ice surface in the UK. I’ve heard nothing but great things about the club and the city of Leeds and I’m really excited to get over there.”

Having spoken with Knights’ head coach Ryan Aldridge at length in recent weeks, Cooper is clear about what role he will be expected to perform once he arrives for his first taste of NIHL National hockey.

LEARNING CURVE: Grant Cooper, in action during his four-year spell at Clarkson University. Picture courtesy of Clarkson University.

“Every year is kind of different, your role kind of changes, it depends what team you play for,” he added. “Ryan has some high expectations for me to come over there and produce for the team and he has a whole plan for the team to succeed this year.

“I know last year they were a young team but they still fared well in the league overall, so I’m looking to bring over some leadership and perhaps a little more maturity to the team.”

Cooper admits his knowledge of the UK hockey scene is limited but, since a deal with Leeds was first mooted, wasted little time in doing his homework, which included sounding out friends in the game such as fellow Clarkson alumni Jordan Boucher, who helped Belfast Giants achieve an EIHL league and Challenge Cup double last season.

“I’ve a lot of good buddies of mine that I played with at school who went and got their feet wet in pro hockey in North America for a few years before going overseas,” he added.

BATTLE READY: Grant Cooper, pictured battling for puck possession during his time with Clarkson University before he turned pro with Reading Royals in the ECHL. Picture courtesy of Clarkson University.

“I have a few buddies in Germany, Sweden and a couple in the EIHL. They’ve said nothing but great things about UK and European hockey, so that was definitely another selling point for me.”

As with earlier import signing, Zach Brooks, Aldridge is confident his patience has been rewarded in landing Cooper.

“He is just a good, solid, all-round hockey player,” said Aldridge. “He’s going to be good at both ends of the ice, he can take the body, he can play in the grey areas, a lot of his goals come from in front of the net.

“He’s the kind of player that I like and one I believe will work really well with how I want the team to play next season.”

LEADING MAN: Canadian-born winger Grant Cooper is keen to make an impact for Leeds Knights during the 2022-23 NIHL National season. Picture courtesy of Reading Royals.
HAPPY SHOPPER: Ryan Aldridge, Leeds Knights' head coach, is pleased with his import duo for the 2022-23 NIHL National season. Picture: Bruce Rollinson