Cooper vs. Armstrong is a huge rivalry game that kids from both programs get excited about and are highly motivated to play in. It is certainly the biggest game of the year for both teams. The north rink at New Hope Ice Arena may not get sold out, but there is usually a large crowd at this game which creates an exciting atmosphere that these student athletes rarely get to compete in. Neither one of these squads will be making a State Tournament appearance this year, so this is as good as it gets. For many years, one Saturday in January was known as Cooper / Armstrong Day in the community (Armstrong / Cooper Day if you were from Armstrong). Cooper & Armstrong youth hockey teams from mites all the way up to high school faced off against each other to claim bragging rights. That has all but disappeared now that the two youth hockey associations have merged to become the Armstrong Cooper Youth Hockey Association. Would be rivals now play together on the same team. For the girls, this reaches all the way up to high school, but for the time being, the boy’s high school programs are still separate. Like many other communities around Minnesota, programs have been shrinking and have had to merge in order to survive and field teams. Hyphenated teams are all over the state merging not only adjoining communities, but also cities. Minneapolis has been boiled down to a single team, the Novas, from several high schools that once had prominent programs of their own.
One great benefit to having independent boy’s high school teams at Cooper & Armstrong is that twice as many kids can have the opportunity to play high school hockey. Unfortunately, the talent pool from the area is somewhat shallow from what gets left over for the public high school programs. It seems that higher skilled youth players that in a normal setting would attend Cooper or Armstrong high schools, often end up in some of the private schools around the area, playing on their higher skilled hockey teams. Many associations around the state gripe about this situation. In our particular case, the robber barons seem to be, but are not limited to Benilde - St. Margarets & Totino Grace, while other areas would argue that Hill Murray or St. Thomas Academy, among others, seem to harvest their best talent. Even within Cooper & Armstrong themselves, players who would traditionally go to Cooper are open enrolled and playing at Armstrong instead.
Whether this affects the current team’s situation or not, the fact remains that, lately, neither Cooper nor Armstrong high school have been able to field hockey teams that are competitive against highly skilled opponents. The recent massacre that Cooper suffered at the hands of Benilde - St. Margarets could be used to illustrate this point. Both Cooper & Armstrong have recently changed conferences separating them from the Edina’s & Wayzata’s, but are still left with formidable foes in BSM, Totino-Grace, Blaine & Maple Grove, as examples. Cooper is in Section 6AA leaving post-season potential competition against at least one of four of the most formidable teams in the state. Non-conference games have been scheduled with teams that are perhaps more similar in skill level. This makes for better games that are more enjoyable for the kids to play in. It makes no sense for Armstrong or Cooper to seek out & play Shattuck in a non-conference match, nor would they accept playing us. Even with the great disparity in skill level from team to team, high school hockey in Minnesota is still great. The Xcel Energy Center will not sell out for an elite, club hockey tournament, but will draw over 19,000 fans in one game for the high school tournament.
Both Cooper & Armstrong teams come into this match-up with successes & failures. The Falcons had a rough start to the season with four players out for two game suspensions that probably would have cost them an entire season in other programs. They rebounded and had a good holiday tournament with a win, a loss & a tie. Cooper won the Silver Bay tournament for the second time in three years, but they have struggled with high caliber teams. In spite of that, they have a couple of players with pretty respectable point totals thus far.
Armstrong / Cooper area kids need to play for fun, camaraderie & the love of the game. Throughout youth hockey there seems to be a prevalent theme of elitism that is pervasive in many associations. Many mite parents are sure that their kid is going to be a star on the high school team ten years before they get there, or, they think if “Johnny” doesn’t make the “A” team, it’s the end of the world. Settle down and enjoy the moment because you never know what’s going to happen. The mite star today may not be the high school phenom of tomorrow, just as the slower kid on the team may not always be relegated to be permanently on the “B-Squad”. So if you’re on the Peewee B2 team, have fun and work hard to get to the next level. If you make it, great. If you don’t, you still had fun.
Among other Armstrong & Cooper alumni, Jim Johnson, Jordan Leopold & Lance Pitlick made it all the way to the NHL. Tommy Fallen & Corey Thorson currently play NCAA D1 hockey & Josh Desmit is playing professionally in Finland. If you visit the New Hope Ica Arena, you can find pictures of several successful players from the community enshrined on a wall in the south rink. We are proud to have had so many successful players from the area, but don’t forget the thousands of other kids that played this great game throughout the years for both Cooper & Armstrong youth and high school programs. Few have earned success at hockey, but most have gained life-long friendships and priceless memories that will last far longer than a professional hockey career. Cooper / Armstrong day may be a rivalry, but at the end of the day it’s a celebration of hockey - enjoy it.
Tag(s): Robbinsdale Cooper