Published Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 10:31 pm / Updated at 10:38 pm
Q&A: UNO’s Brian Cooper

The freshman defenseman from Anchorage, Alaska, moved into regular duty among the top six of the Mavericks’ talented corps of blueliners. The 5-foot-11, 187-pound, 19-year-old was a two-time All-USHL second-teamer with Fargo, and in three seasons with the Force had 20 goals and 50 assists in 161 games. He was drafted in the fifth round, 127th overall, by Anaheim last summer. He picked up his second career assist in Saturday’s 3-1 win against Colorado College. He carries a plus-1 rating after going plus-4 against the Tigers, and has 35 penalty minutes.

Q: Has the transition to college hockey been about what you’ve expected?

A: It’s definitely tough. They describe it to you, and everyone tries to get you ready, but you’re never really ready for it. It’s fast. Fast and big. It’s something to get used to, but the staff and my teammates do a good job of getting you ready in practice. Maybe they make it sound a little worse so that it’s not as bad when it actually happens.

Q: You took a puck off an ankle in practice in early November and missed six games with a bone bruise. How frustrating was it to have to miss time because of an injury like that, especially at that point in the season?

A: It’s rough, because it wasn’t because I was playing badly or someone was necessarily playing better than me. I just had an injury. Nothing you can do about it except try to get better. The roughest thing was that it was tough to practice on it. It was hard to stay in shape.

Q: And then when you got back, voilą, you were a forward for a while — just what you expected when you signed with UNO as a highly touted NHL draft-pick defenseman, right?

A: I was in the lineup, and that’s all I can really ask for. I want to work as hard as I can. He (coach Dean Blais) said he needed me on the fourth line, so that’s what I did.

Q: Dean said one reason was he thought you weren’t able to pivot quite as well as you needed to at D, and with as deep as you guys are there, he didn’t want to rush you back there. Was that part of it?

A: It’s hard coming back against a good team after being hurt, especially on big (Olympic-sized) ice at St. Cloud. … It was a rough start, but I got my feet back under me a little bit. It was nice having (fellow defenseman Brian) O’Rourke up there with me (at forward). Me and him, with the forwards we played with (Tanner Lane, Aaron Pearce, Charlie Adams), I thought we helped them play more defensive, more solid.

Q: Did you play much forward growing up?

A: I played a little when I was younger — two or three shifts here and there. And I would always say, “This is too much work. I’m going to stick to D.”

Q: Dean drafted you when he was at Fargo, but then he left for UNO before coaching you, and then he signed you to come play here. Were you just destined to play for him at some point?

A: Knowing him like that, there was definitely a connection. And having previous Force players like Johnnie (Searfoss), (Dayn) Belfour and (Ryan) Massa, they made it sound good. He’s got a great track record. He’s a winning coach, and things always go well. The way he plays, I was really excited about it.

Q: What’s it like being an NHL draft pick? Is it a life-changing thing, or is it just kind of the next stage in your development?

A: It’s definitely nice to have a team that’s seriously interested in you. Even though (Andrej) Sustr is a big name and has a lot of stuff going on — and kudos to him for being able to handle it — it’s nice to know that you have one team to focus on, one team that’s talking to you, one team that’s kind of helping you get to the next level. And it’s good to know that you have a good chance of hopefully making it to the next level.

Q: Any of the veteran defensemen here that you rely upon for help or advice?

A: All of them are pretty good. They’re good leaders. They get on you when you’re doing bad. They give you a pat on the back when you need it. They make sure you’re never too high or too low. We’ve got a great corps back there, probably one of the best in the country, and I’m happy to be a part of it.

Q: At 5-11 and 187 pounds, you’re the little guy back there, but maybe you’re one of the most physical. How much do you try to bring the physical part of your game to make up for the fact that you’re not, like Andrej, 6-8?

A: It’s a disadvantage at some point, because Sustr and (Jaycob) Megna (at 6-7) have those long sticks. I’ve just got to make sure my feet are going well — that’s why Blais put me up front for a while because I wasn’t using my feet as well as I could. I’m not afraid of the hitting game. I love it. It’s unfortunate that once in awhile the ref decides to take that away from you, and that’s kind of frustrating. When I talk to my dad he says, “It looks like you’re hitting out there.” I take that as a compliment. I’m a physical player and it’s one of my favorite parts of the game.

Contact the writer: Rob White    |   402-444-1027    |  

Rob White covers University of Nebraska at Omaha sports and the Omaha Storm Chasers.

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