In keeping with an organizational mandate of providing opportunities for quality players from the North Shore, Espanola Rivermen of the new Canadian International Hockey League have signed 1996 birth-year defenceman Brett Cooke.
Cooke, who hails from the small northern town of Thessalon, heads down the highway to Espanola after spending the 2013-2014 season in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League with first the Elliot Lake Bobcats, then the Blind River Beavers.
In all, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound blueliner — who was named best defenceman in the Sault Ste. Marie high school league in 2012-2013 while starring for the Central Algoma Huskies — played in 44 games in the NOJHL in 2013-2014.
Espanola was a member of the NOJHL in 2013-2014 before leaving to become a part of the new eight-team CIHL that begins play this 2014-2015 season — and Cooke got to see some of what the Rivermen organization is all about.
“First of all, I feel that the NOJHL is a very good league but it was a necessity for me to change teams,” Cooke told HockeyNewsNorth.com. “Having played against the Espanola Rivermen last year and being able to see how their organization operated, I felt that they would be a great fit for me.
“I am looking forward to being a part of the inaugural season of the CIHL, especially with such a strong organization like the Rivermen,” Cooke continued. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to play for and develop under Coach (Tom) McCarthy and to be part of a community-minded organization that is dedicated to the development and future prospects of its players. I’m really looking forward to being a strong contributor to the team, both on and off the ice.”
After learning of Cooke’s interest in the CIHL and Espanola and having watched him play in the NOJHL in 2013-2014, Rivermen general manager Chad Clarke called it a “no-brainer” to sign a defenceman who still has three full years of junior eligibility remaining.
Tim Clayden, founder and president of the CIHL who also founded and still owns the Espanola franchise, likes the fact that not only is Cooke a good defenceman but a product of the North Shore.
“We are ecstatic to have another experienced d-man like Brett Cooke join our junior hockey family, we take pride to be known as a junior hockey program that is attractive to all young men and their families throughout the North Shore and Brett certainly fits the bill and adds even more experience to our back end,” said Clayden. “Our goal is to help Brett and all our players reach their next level of play that most definitely includes college hockey in the next year or two.”
PHOTO: Brett Cooke, now of the Espanola Rivermen of the CIHL.