By Kai Farenholtz
Photo credit: Garrett James Photography
When people say that Cooper Black has been an enormous piece of Nanaimo’s continued success throughout the entirety of the season, it is meant in a figurative sense, but it could also be meant in the most literal sense too, granted, he is 6-foot-8.
Those who walk by Black on the streets of Nanaimo may believe he is the starting centre for Vancouver Island University’s basketball team. Instead, he has been controlling the Clippers crease for the majority of the season. Although, since the start of the playoffs, his impact on the ice is becoming more and more apparent with every start. He is currently 12-0 in the postseason, backing his team to three consecutive sweeps on their way to the Fred Page Cup Finals. The only thing more impressive than Nanaimo’s record has to be Black’s statistics, as he is putting together one of the finest postseasons ever from a goaltender in the BCHL.
On rare occasion, goaltenders have reached similar numbers in the past, as recently as 2019 where Logan Neaton of the Prince George Spruce Kings went 16-1 with a 1.46 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage to help the organization capture their first Fred Page Cup. But Neaton never faced the pure volume of shots that Black has seen on a nightly basis during his playoff tenure. Neaton faced on average 25.4 shots against per game during the 2019 playoffs, rarely seeing more than 30 shots a game. Black on the other hand has faced an average of 33.7 shots against in the 12 playoff contests he has played so far, while maintaining a ridiculous 1.54 goals-against average and a .953 save percentage.
It is impossible to undermine what Black has accomplished so far in the BCHL playoffs. A year ago, Black was playing Jr. A in the United States, splitting time between the Omaha Lancers of the USHL and Odessa Jackalopes of the NAHL. It is impressive to see how swiftly he has made the adjustment to playing hockey north of the border and in such a commanding fashion.
Black credits a conversation with Clippers coach Colin Birkas in the offseason with how he arrived on Vancouver Island this year.
“Coach Birkas called me one day in early August and talked to me about coming out and playing for the Clips,” said Black. “He sold me on it. Obviously, it’s been great. I couldn’t have asked for a better team and situation.”
Black had only heard positive stories from the BCHL during his time in the States and was excited to get things started at the beginning of the season. His impact with the Clippers was immediate, starting off the campaign with a 6-0-0 record, letting the league know there was a new kid on the block.
One thing Black was thrilled with upon joining the league was the pace in which the game is played in the BCHL, compared to other leagues he played in previously.
Another thing that stood out to him was the amount of blossoming young talent in the league, even though they may give him a hard time on occasion.
“You see guys like Cameron Johnson, Matthew Wood, Grayden Slipec, all those guys are under 18 and they’re all disgusting,” he said. “So you get guys like that who play in this league which you don’t really get in the NAHL. Honestly, I think my favourite part is you get to see a little more skill. It’s good for a goalie…You come up here and it’s a bit more of an east-to-west game with the quick transition north-to-south. It’s just such a highly skilled league.”
It hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows for the Michigan native this season. He came down with an ankle injury halfway through the year after a hard-fought win vs. the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. Black would be sidelined for a month before making his return in late February against the Langley Rivermen, where he would come back in prime form, making 51 saves on 54 shots in a 5-3 victory. Black actually admits that the rest time during his injury has been a factor for his success throughout the latter half of the season, peering through a positive lens rather than looking at it as an obstacle.
“It’s a long season,” said Black. “I think the injury giving me a little bit of time off to mentally reset and make sure that my body feels 100 per cent going into playoffs. That has helped me big time.”
That rest has done wonders for him in the postseason, especially with the added time between series as Nanaimo has yet to lose a single playoff game.
After the BCHL playoffs, Black is set to play his 2022-23 season with Dartmouth College in the NCAA and he is entering the program at the best possible time. With a new coaching crew behind the bench of the Big Green and an opening for the starting role in the crease after former Dartmouth goalie and BCHL alum Clay Stevenson recently signed an NHL contract, Black is ecstatic to get things underway at the Ivy League institution.
“The coaching staff there is top notch,” he said. “I think right now, they’re ranked a little bit lower because it was the old coaching staff that had all the recruits in there and I think that now you’re starting to see guys come in with the new coaching staff and more experience. I think that we’re going to be really good.”
Black is all set for Dartmouth, but he has a few pressing items still on his list before he packs up for college. He will be the starter for the Clippers in Penticton for Game 1 of the league championship series on May 13 against the Vees . To leave a mark in the record book is definitely an aspiration for Black, but with his team-first mentality and dialed-in focus, there is one thing clearly at the top of his priority list.
“I’m just focused on trying to win the Fred Page.”