U Sports All-Star Cook flourishing down the middle
By Ryan Stelter, U Sports Men’s Hockey Correspondent
A season and a half into to his varsity career, Holden Cook is already one of the nation’s best.
The second-year forward on the St. Francis Xavier men’s hockey team racked up nine goals and 21 points in 15 games during the first half of the season. Sixteen of those points came in the month of October alone, highlighted by a four-goal, five-point explosion – including the game-winner – in a 5-4 overtime upset of the No.1-ranked UNB Varsity Reds. He’s currently sitting tied for seventh in the AUS in scoring.
The impressive first month of the season has earned Cook U Sports Male Athlete of the Month honours for October. He was also recently invited to represent the U Sports All-Star team that will play two games against the Canadian national junior squad hopefuls on Monday and Tuesday in Boisbriand, Que.
“I’m honoured to play for the U Sports All-Star team,” said Cook, one of just two second-year players to be named to the squad. “It’s a real privilege to play a game like that. There’s a lot of good players in the AUS, so just being selected out of that group is really special for me.”
Before suiting up for the X-Men, Cook played parts of five seasons with the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL. The business major played as a winger prior to coming to Owen Sound, but was moved to centre with the Attack and was really able to do some damage.
“I kind of found my stride as a centreman, near the end of my career,” he said. “Playing with different guys [in junior], you grow as a person and a player.”
The move to StFX proved to be a valuable one for Cook, as he has been able to have more freedom on the ice, thanks to head coach Brad Peddle, who will serve as an assistant with the U Sports All-Stars.
“Coming to StFX has allowed me to become the player I always thought I was capable of,” Cook said. “I’ve grown a lot more as a player being here than I had the chance to in Owen Sound. It has allowed me to be more confident. Playing under Brad, he allows you to make mistakes where I didn’t have the same opportunities in junior.”
Cook’s time in Owen Sound was still valuable however, having to opportunity to meet and play alongside Kurtis Gabriel, a 23-year-old currently with the Iowa Wild of the AHL – Minnesota’s top minor-league affiliate. Gabriel was a AA player his whole career, but ended up making the Attack roster as a tougher, hard-working player.
“I have never seen anybody work harder in my life,” Cook said. “I have never seen anyone want to be a professional hockey player more. I’ve never seen anyone inspire me more than him.
“Just being an everyday guy that’s always doing the right thing - you just keep yourself accountable more. It helped being around him so much to take things that he did and put it into my game.”
Cook has also had his own taste of the pro game, having being invited to Los Angeles Kings training camp in 2014. It was a great experience for the Oshawa, Ont. native, getting to play hockey in the city of angels.
“It’s the start of every kid’s dream. It’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to an NHL experience,” Cook said. “It was really cool, to see how they run and see all the [Kings players] and how they carry themselves. Overall it was just a tremendous experience.”
A few miles south of LA, is the city of Anaheim, where Corey Perry of the Ducks plies his trade. Perry is a player Cook tries to model his game after.
“I like the way he plays the game, he plays hard,” Cook said. “He’s physical and a leader, and he likes to shoot the puck.”
Cook will look to continue his stellar season following the World Junior series and winter break. The X-Men are in third-place in the AUS with an 11-7-0 record and are currently ranked No. 9 in the U Sports Top 10.