Colorado Rubber

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Highlands Ranch’s Cooke uses solid season with NAHL’s Grit to earn NCAA D-III spot at Lake Forest


Hunter Cooke developed his game growing up playing AAA hockey for the Colorado Thunderbirds and this past season for the NAHL’s Colorado Grit.

This coming season, the Highlands Ranch native will take another jump as Cooke will begin his NCAA career with Lake Forest College, a Division III school about 32 miles up the Lake Michigan coast from Chicago.

“Coach (Sean) O’Malley reached out around December and really kept tabs on me throughout the year,” said Cooke. “The first thing that appealed to me about the hockey was the competition they play every weekend. It’s one of the better conferences (NCHA) and I want to play against the best. Lake Forest really took over because of the academics. I really prioritize my education and life after hockey. There are few schools that set you up after college like Lake Forest does.”

For the 2023-24 season, Cooke suited up for the first-year Grit franchise, a season he said was unforgettable.

“David Clarkson brought the team to Greeley, gave me an invitation to the main camp, and I made the team out of camp that July,” Cooke said. “The season as a whole wasn’t what we were hoping for, but we made big improvements and really bonded as a team. Personally, it was great playing in the North American League with great players, and it really helped me develop as a player.

“It is unbelievable to have a junior team in Colorado and close to home because my family got to come to every game. I know a lot of the local kids feel the same way. It’s a great opportunity to keep kids close to home and still play at a high level.”

Prior to the Grit, Cooke’s time with the Thunderbirds helped him prepare for higher levels of the game.

“It was a great organization and really helped players develop and advance in their hockey career,” said Cooke. “I believe David Clarkson, Eric Lacroix, and John Mitchell are unbelievable influences on Colorado hockey by making a training facility at Family Sports and bringing in OHC as well. It really helps kids develop on and off the ice and they are teaching these young players not only how to achieve their goals but to also become better people.”

Going back further, hockey has been a passion of Cooke’s for as long as he can remember, and that translated to Cooke making every day the best he can.

“I got hooked watching the Avs on TV,” Cooke said. “My dad loved the Avs and I was glued to the TV watching them every night. I just love the game and when you love something, you feel motivated to get better.

“Some of my fondest memories playing youth hockey in Colorado were going to Quebec for the Pee Wee international tournament and going to Saskatchewan for the Silver Stick. Also, winning states and going to districts was awesome.”

His college destination set, Cooke now has a new set of goals to tackle.

“My expectations going into this fall are to continue to work hard and give myself the best opportunity to help the team,” Cooke said. “I want to get a great degree and possibly play professional hockey after college.”

Photo provided by Hunter Cooke

— Matt Mackinder

(May 5, 2024)

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