Because of dwindling turnout in boys’ hockey, Robbinsdale Cooper is joining forces with conference rival Robbinsdale Armstrong to form a co-op team.
This is the 50th season of Cooper hockey, but it marks the first season in which the two schools — located a few miles from each other across Hwy. 169 — will play together.
Last year a co-op with Fridley netted Cooper only one additional player. This season the Hawks simply don’t have the numbers to field a team after losing 11 players to graduation.
With a new team comes a new name and a new logo. The co-op will be called the Armstrong/Cooper Wings. The players will look to start a new tradition together, but they’ll start first by celebrating the history of Cooper hockey.
On Saturday at New Hope Ice Arena, they will honor legendary Cooper coach Ken Staples, who died on Sept. 9 at age 87. Staples led Cooper to six regional finals and two Lake Conference championships.
He posted a record of 151-78-5 in his career behind the bench and was elected to the Minnesota High School Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006.
“He was old-school tough, but all heart,” said John Evans, a former Cooper player who graduated in 1977. “He changed the culture; he built Cooper.”
While Staples coached hockey and taught social studies at Cooper until his retirement in 1986, he lived in the Armstrong attendance area and his children attended Armstrong. He’s seen as a symbol of the new Cooper and Armstrong on-ice marriage.
Among those who are expected to be on hand to honor Staples is former Cooper hockey star Lance Pitlick, a 1986 graduate who played defense for the University of Minnesota.
Pitlick, who was drafted by the North Stars, spent 10 years playing professional hockey.
“(Staples) was a great mentor to me during a time in my life when I needed someone,” Pitlick said. “He meant the world to me.”
Before the first Armstrong/Cooper home game in history, Pitlick will address the crowd about his former coach and Staples’ grandchildren will drop a ceremonial puck. The Wings will wear stickers with Staples’ nickname “Stapes” on their helmets all season.
“This is a great opportunity for these kids to establish a new tradition,” Pitlick said. “Not of two separate programs, but as one united program in the community.”