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An ice age appears over for Cooper hockey.
Long-dwindling participation and insufficient youth hockey numbers has administrators and coaches seeking a merger with the Armstrong high school program. The school district board was expected to hear the recommendation at a scheduled meeting Tuesday after this edition went to press.
Bill Rooney, a coach in the Cooper program for 18 years, said he has seen this day coming.
“It’s more to do with the location of the school,” Rooney said. Cooper is located in New Hope. “We’re a first-ring suburb and lots of kids don’t play hockey.”
Rooney said 30 players participated in junior varsity or varsity hockey this season but the number of longtime hockey players was smaller. The Hawks will lose 11 seniors to graduation this spring and only “two or three” players are projected to join the program next fall. A co-op with Fridley added only one player to the mix for last season.
Armstrong coach Danny Charleston said he “would agree” that a merger is imminent.
“I don’t see how there could be much change,” he said. “It’s a shame it has come to this, but I think we’re a good fit together. Get past the rivalries and you realize we’re a better team with Cooper. I have no reservations.”
If approved, a merger with Plymouth-based Armstrong would follow what the girls’ hockey programs at the schools have done the past three seasons. The boys’ youth hockey programs merged about six years ago.
Rooney said school board approval must be followed by acceptance from the Northwest Suburban Conference and the Minnesota State High School League.
“It’s a sign of the times,” Rooney said. “We knew it was coming but it’s still difficult. Cooper just kind of goes away.”
Rooney’s son, Trey, scored 36 goals and added 33 assists as a sophomore last season. Bill Rooney said it’s possible the family would seek to transfer schools. “But that’s not something I really want to do,” he said.
Charleston offered Rooney, an Armstrong graduate, a position on the Falcons’ varsity coaching staff.
“Bill can help in many ways, first and foremost to make this an easier transition,” Charleston said.