Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 4
 
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
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(Photo Courtesy of Union College Sports Information)

UNION LEADER: Matt Cook fires the puck out of the corner in recent action for the Union College men’s hockey team. Cook, a native of Belle Mead whose grandfather, father, and uncle all played hockey for Princeton University, is a key performer for the Dutchmen. The senior forward and team captain has five goals and seven assists this season to help Union to a 12-11-1 record.

Displaying Princeton Hockey Bloodlines, Cook Ending Union Career With a Bang

Bill Alden

Matt Cook’s grandfather, father, and uncle all played hockey for Princeton University so it’s no surprise that he hit the ice early in life.

“I think I started playing hockey as soon as I could walk,” said Cook, whose father, Stephen Cook, played for the Tigers from 1963-66 and whose uncle, John Cook ’63, still holds the Princeton record for career goals with 67.

“It is just part of the family; we have family games at Christmas that can be pretty wild.”

The Belle Mead native cut his teeth in the game at Princeton’s Baker Rink where he got into the youth hockey scene.

“I played for the Princeton Junior Tigers at Baker Rink; I learned the game there,” said Cook, who went on to play for the Mercer Chiefs and the New Jersey Rockets. “I played a ton of hockey at Baker with the 6 a.m. practices and all that.”

In high school, Cook spent a year at Princeton Day School and then headed to New England to play at Tabor Academy (Mass.).

After putting together a superb career which saw him make the New England Prep League All-Star team in his senior year, Cook pursued the possibility of continuing the family tradition at Princeton but ended up at Union College when the New York school showed him the most interest.

“It was a great situation,” said Cook, reflecting on his choice of Union. “It is a really good school and a hockey program on the rise.”

Cook has played a major role in the emergence of Union in recent years, developing into a productive offensive player and a team captain.

Earlier this month, Cook came home and gave Princeton a glimpse of his skills as he blasted a power play goal in the third period to give Union a 3-2 win over the Tigers at Baker Rink on January 9.

Cook had a feeling of coming full circle as he reflected on his game-winning goal.

“That was a big game for us; Princeton has been the class of the league the last two seasons,” said the 5’11, 200 pound Cook, a forward who has five goals and seven assists this season as Union has started 12-11-1 and is currently in 10th place in ECAC Hockey play.

“It was a great game; everyone gave 100 percent effort. After the game, I gave the game puck to my dad and he was getting teary eyed. It was like a homecoming, it was surreal to have a moment like that at Baker.”

When Cook started at Union, it didn’t look like he was going to have many moments like that as he struggled to adjust to college hockey. “I was an 18 year old going against guys who were in their 20s; the guys are faster and more physical,” said Cook.

“I dressed the first five games and then I was in and out of the lineup. The coaches were real honest with me, telling me what I needed to do to improve. They spent extra time with me. After Christmas, I started to play well. I had to battle through some things; I needed to get confidence and learn the system.”

In his sophomore season, Cook displayed his increased confidence as he produced a breakout season, scoring 26 points on 12 goals and 14 assists.

“I always worked well with Coach [Rick] Bennett, he worked on skills with me and that made a big difference,” said Cook, who currently has 66 points (30 goals, 36 assists) in his career in 126 appearances.

“He sent me to Paul Vincent skating camp in Bridgewater, Mass. that summer and that really helped me. It gave me a lot of confidence.”

Cook’s positive mindset and improved play saw him get elevated to the assistant captain spot during the season.

“I was put in a leadership position, it didn’t register so much at the time,” recalled Cook.

“It was in the middle of the season and we were focused on getting some wins. Becoming captain junior year, I felt pressure. It was a bit overwhelming at first because it was the first time I had been in a leadership position like that. Some incoming freshmen were older than me having played juniors. The team is so important to me.”

In Cook’s junior season, the Dutchmen turned a corner, going 15-14-6 overall and rising to fourth place in ECACH play after finishing 12th in the league in 2007-07. “The foundation has been laid,” said Cook, who scored 19 points on the season with 10 goals and nine assists.

“I credit coaches for their recruiting; they have brought in better players. The talent level has really increased. In the second half of the year, things clicked and we got comfortable with the system and our roles in it.”

Off the ice, Cook has taken a major role in the Schenectady, N.Y. community, participating in Habitat for Humanity, the YMCA soup kitchen, and local youth hockey programs.

“The community around us is great; they give us so much support,” asserted Cook, who was recently named as one of 20 student-athletes selected as a candidate for the Lowe’s Senior Class Award which recognizes excellence in athletics, academics, and community service.

“It is good to give something back to them. With school and hockey keeping you busy, you can lose focus on what’s truly important. When you are at the Y on Thanksgiving passing out food or building a house for Habitat for Humanity, that gives you a different perspective.”

As he heads down the home stretch of his Union career, Cook is bringing a special perspective to things.

“This is a great opportunity for our senior class,” said Cook, who hopes to play professional hockey after graduation.

“We need to be business-like and oriented on getting the job done. It is the last year we get to play for a school and for each other. This team is especially close, we spend a lot of time together on the road and at school. It is like a family, we are a team of brothers. It’s emotional but we can’t think about that.”

No matter what happens over the rest of the winter, Cook has proven to be a standout member of two hockey families.

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