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Published April 13 2012

Force's Cooper showed his ability to handle USHL at a young age

Fargo - Cindy Cooper wondered if her son was good enough to play with older kids.

Jason Herter wondered if the same kid could adjust to being away from home.

Paul Wixo wondered if the same kid could skate.

These were concerns Force defenseman Brian Cooper had to deal with when he was 15 years old.

At age 18, the captain of the Fargo Force junior hockey team has used his maturity to show he can handle any challenge thrown his way.

“Maybe it’s more habit, but it’s knowing what I need to do on and off the ice,” Cooper said. “Knowing what it takes to be ready for the weekend, what it takes to handle school and just staying focused.”

Poise has carried Cooper through three seasons with the Force.

It also convinced a few people.

Cooper’s mother, Cindy, was nervous about her son leaving their home in Alaska to have him play junior hockey.

That’s until she saw her son play at a tryout camp against bigger and older kids.

“What sealed the deal for me was going to the first camp and watching him,” Cindy Cooper said. “I saw Brian not only keeping up but being just as good, maybe better than the other kids.”

Others thought so too, as Cooper was one of the most recruited players in the nation last season. He committed to Nebraska-Omaha and has been projected to be a third- or fourth-round pick in this summer’s NHL draft.

Herter, now an assistant at Minnesota-Duluth, was a Force assistant charged with bringing Cooper to Fargo.

Talent, Herter said, was never the issue with Cooper. The issue was if a 15-year-old could handle being away from home.

“They (Cooper’s parents) knew their kid better than we did,” said Herter, who was the Force head coach last season. “They felt Brian had the attitude to maintain getting his school work and hockey work done, and they were right.”

Cooper has maintained a 4.0 grade-point average and someday plans to attend medical school at Creighton University in Omaha – that’s if a professional hockey career doesn’t pan out.

Besides being smart, Cooper can be blunt – a trait Wixo, the Force’s equipment manager, quickly discovered.

“When they introduced me to him, he asked, ‘Can you sharpen skates?’” Wixo recalled. “His mom was there, but I wanted to ask him, ‘Can you skate?’”

It was a rocky first encounter, but Wixo says Cooper is one of the best players he’s ever dealt with.

Wixo spends literally every day for seven months with the team. He often jokes about seeing Force players more than his own wife and children. But he said players like Cooper have made his time away from home worth it.

“Every time a home game is over, he always makes time to talk with my son,” Wixo said. “You know with Cooper, even if hockey doesn’t work out, he’s going to be an important person in life.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan S. Clark at (701) 241-5548.

Clark’s Force blog can be found at slightlychilled.areavoices.com

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