"I have no future, I have no past, my only goal is to make the present last"
- Jim Fannin
Photo: Liam Richards/Saskatoon StarPhoenix
If a goalie finds themselves in contention for an MVP award in a league spanning 35 teams and nearly 950 players, it means they've done something extraordinary. It means they've been consistent, it means they've stolen games, it means they've given their team a chance to win every night, and it means they haven't encountered any task too tall for them to conquer. Meet the 2015-16 CIS Goalie of the Year, Jordon Cooke.
Drafted by the Kelowna Rockets in the fourth round of the 2008 WHL Bantam draft, it didn't take long for Cooke to get acclimated to major junior hockey. In his first two seasons, Cooke posted save percentages in the top 10 amongst WHL goalies, followed by a 2012-13 season which saw him take WHL second team all-star honours, and for his WHL overage season, won the CHL goaltender of the year award in 2013-14.
None of Jordon Cooke's success was an accident. His impact on the game can be seen each night he takes to the ice for a game, but for Cooke, the process of making it all possible begins well before he straps on the pads.
"In the summertime I like to take care of my body and get back in the gym," says Cooke. "I train for endurance, and I try and gain back as much weight as possible, because throughout the year you kind of lose that muscle mass."
If the endurance training didn't play a factor in the regular season, it most certainly did during the University Cup. Cooke's Saskatchewan Huskies defeated the Carleton Ravens 3-2 in a marathon 116 minute hockey game, followed up by a 106 minute thriller just 48 hours later against StFX. But it takes more than just athleticism for a goalie like Cooke to be locked in for 223 minutes.
"I feel if I'm well rested, I can trust myself a lot more," says Cooke, "I credit a lot of that to John Stevenson, an old goalie coach of mine. He focused a lot on the sport psychology aspect of the game, and he's really helped me relax myself when I get in those situations."
Photo: Mona Ghiz/CIS Images
John Stevenson, a former goalie coach of the Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Oilers, is well known for his work as a sports psychologist with goalies. Previously the goalie coach for the Alberta Golden Bears, and a former student at StFX and York University, Stevenson's CIS hockey connections run strong, but his client base ranges from young goalies in the WHL to NHL stars, such as Braden Holtby. Having worked with Cooke since his minor hockey days in Leduc, Alta. Stevenson has seen Saskatchewan's goalie mature into one of the best in the CIS.
"He's a real smart kid, and he's a very mature kid," says Stevenson of Cooke, "Jordon got introduced to mental skills at a very young age. With Jordon going away and being at University, being with older guys, sometimes, all of a sudden, it kicks in."
The effect of the junior hockey to CIS transition on players is a topic often discussed, and even Jordon Cooke wasn't exempt to the learning process. After splitting his first season in the league with Ryan Holfeld in the Saskatchewan net, Cooke was able to find a way to learn and become a better goalie.
"[Holfeld] was a law student, and with any law program, it's very time consuming," recalls Cooke, "He really knew how to deal with his time management, and I think that's something I really took from him and have been able to apply this past year."
Now studying in the Arts & Science program at Saskatchewan, Cooke continues to learn the balance of hockey and life away from the arena. But perhaps the biggest difference-maker in Cooke's CIS career has been providing himself purpose to continue to push forward both personally, and as a team.
"I learned that from John Stevenson," Cooke says, "I was kinda stubborn in my first couple years of junior. I had goals in mind, but I never actually wrote them out. I was going into my over-age year [in the WHL] and I actually wrote out a couple goals into a notepad. I set out to win the goalie of the year in that level [WHL] and I actually did. Setting goals is huge, I like to set them and not even look at them throughout the year, and then look back to see if I was able to accomplish them."
Stevenson finds the goals helpful in allowing athletes to find their focus, well before the puck-drops.
"It's great to have an outcome goal, but what's the process that's going to allow that outcome goal to take care of itself?" Stevenson says, "I see too many guys going in without a purpose - [setting goals] directs their energy more, they make their practices way more purposeful."
Those practices make a big difference in a CIS regular season which lasts just under 30 games over five months where practice habits for athletes have a magnified effect.
"I'm a big believer in you treat your practice like a game," says Stevenson, "That way, it's not all of a sudden this big leap when you get into the game."
Those purposeful practices are what gave Cooke the confidence to succeed this season, but they also serve as a function to keep Cooke in his groove of consistency as he stays focused, something John Stevenson finds extremely important for goalies to control when in a game.
"When you're playing well, your focus is good. When you're playing poorly, your focus is even better. The thing is you're focusing on the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong way," says Stevenson. "As soon as guys get really good at recognizing they've lost their focus, then they can bring it back."
Stevenson also has a theory as to why goalies like Cooke can stay consistent for long periods of time at the CIS level.
"For some guys, prior to a game, they need to get more activated, where other guys need to be more calm. When you really start to know yourself, and what makes you tick, then you're gonna be more consistent."
Photo: Josh Schaefer/Saskatchewan Huskies
There's no doubt that Jordon Cooke is one of the best goalies in the CIS right now, but it's one thing to be there, and another to stay there. Cooke will be doing everything he can to mentally and physically prepare himself for next season, but his number one priority remains a team oriented goal.
"To me, winning is the most important thing," says Cooke. "I'm so proud of our guys that we won Canada West. We were all heartbroken after what happened at nationals, but we grew as a team, and we're definitely looking forward to next year."
As Cooke looks to continue his success, he enlists the help of goaltending experts from his region. Cooke credits Tynan Smysniuk and the staff at Goal Tec for polishing his technical abilities, and John Stevenson for giving him the mental edge for his recent success, but one of the best pieces of advice Cooke received came from his former goalie coach in Kelowna, Kim Dillabaugh.
"He said just relax, it's a game, just go out and have fun," remembers Cooke. "That's what has allowed me to develop into the goalie I am now. I've seen significant improvement in small little aspects that I've been trying to focus on and improve, and I think that's what lead to it."
Cooke is a confident young man, and with good reason. His .934 SV% and 1.82 GAA throughout the Canada West postseason and University Cup will not soon be forgotten. A two-peat for the Canada West championship will be on the agenda of Cooke as his Saskatchewan teammates, but the job won't feel entirely complete until the University Cup is theirs. But to get to the top of the CIS, you can only get there one goal at a time.