Cooper Connell forged his passion for hockey on the tennis courts.
His dad is former Canadian tennis professional Grant Connell, so naturally Cooper and his older sister, Madison, gravitated to the sport when the family went to hit the ball around at Hollyburn Tennis Club in West Vancouver, where they live.
While both Cooper and Madison quickly discovered they preferred the atmosphere and camaraderie of team sports, they both carry with them their father’s dedication to success and commitment to hard work that made him the 67th-ranked singles tennis player in the world in 1991 and the top-ranked doubles player in 1993. They also learned the value of leveraging their athletic attributes to achieve an education.
Cooper Connell, 17, kicked that quest into high gear when he joined the Coquitlam Express of the BC Hockey League after scoring 36 points in 40 games with the Vancouver NW Giants of the BC Major Midget League last season. Madison is already attending Stanford University on a field hockey scholarship. Two younger twin sisters are also showing sporting inclinations, and another is gravitating to dance.
Connell said his dad has always imparted to the family a belief they can accomplish whatever they set out to accomplish. And with stories of his dad’s achievements and experiences playing college tennis at Texas A&M University where he reached the NCAA quarterfinals in singles in 1984 echoing in his head, he knows he wants his hockey to earn him a scholarship to a U.S. college.
That goal made Connell’s decision to take his next step in hockey with the BC Hockey League easy. More than 100 players in the league are already committed to head south of the border in 2019 or 2020.
The rest was up to Coquitlam Express coach Jason Fortier.
“I liked how he operates, how he wants to win a championship,” Connell said. “I want to put myself around the right people.”
Fortier said Connell has a high level of hockey intelligence with plenty of tools to get even better.
“His ceiling is pretty high.”
But more importantly, he said, his rookie forward understands the amount of hard work it will take to reach for that ceiling.
Connell said that comes from his dad.
“He always said to be the best you can be and be true to yourself.”
And he imparted those lessons in every family activity, whether it was lobbing tennis balls back and forth at Hollyburn, or playing ping pong in the basement of their house. In fact, last summer father and son teamed up to reach the final in the parent/child draw at the Stanley Park Open.
Grant Connell said his son has always been a quick study.
“He’s super competitive,” said the senior Connell, who now sells real estate. “He’s always been the captain of his own ship.”
Connell has three goals and an assist 13 games into his junior career. He said the game is faster, more physical than at any other level of hockey he played at before.
“You have to work hard every shift,” he said. “You have to keep your feet moving.”
Fortier said while 6’3” Connell may be one of the youngest players on the team, his maturity is already apparent.
“He’s a positive influence in the (dressing) room,” he said.
• The Express are celebrating the parents of the team’s players with a series of special events this weekend kicking off tonight (Friday) when the team will wear special pink jerseys to help raise awareness about breast cancer and the research that is going on to find a cure. That will be followed by a reception for parents and billet families, as well as players and staff.
Game time tonight is 7 p.m. at the Poirier Sports and Leisure Complex.
The Express then host Nanaimo on Sunday at 3 p.m.