Hockey passion earns sixth grader a trip abroad

Austin Cook before a hockey practice at the Flyers Skate Zone in Pennsauken this month.
Austin Cook before a hockey practice at the Flyers Skate Zone in Pennsauken this month. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 19, 2014

Austin Cook shifts his weight onto his back leg as he raises the blade of a hockey stick behind his ear. He brings the stick down onto a rubber puck with the full force of his body, and the disc clangs against the side of a makeshift goal, ricocheting into the family garage. He'd lost count of the number of shots taken that morning after his 300th.

When he's satisfied with himself, he scurries inside to grab his backpack and heads to catch the bus to Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School.

Austin, an 11-year-old peewee ice hockey player, shoots 250 to 300 pucks each morning before heading to school. His three coaches - one of them his father - agree the sixth grader's level of self-motivation is unusual for his age.

However, none of the three is surprised that Austin caught the eye of scouts for the Selects Hockey organization, who have elected to take him to Italy and Canada in the spring to play in international tournaments.

"He was clearly one of the best defensemen there," Joe Templin, director of boys' hockey for the Selects organization, said of Austin's tryout for the organization Jan. 1. "He's got a very high hockey IQ. He rarely makes mistakes with the puck."

In the spring, Austin will suit up for the Legacy Global Sports '02 East Coast Selects-O Boys team.

The squad, composed of the top prospects on the East Coast born in 2002 - most from New England and the Mid-Atlantic - will travel to Bolzano, Italy, in April to compete against the most promising hockey players 12 or younger from nations across Northern and Eastern Europe.

Austin, who plays on Team Comcast's Peewee Minor club, was the only South Jerseyan selected.

"These kids will have the opportunity to play against the best players from their birth year across North America," Templin said. "In Italy, you'll see the best kids from Russia, Finland, you name the hockey country."

Twelve days after the team returns from Europe, it will spend nine days competing in Toronto, as well as six days in Buffalo, N.Y., in June participating in a camp for youth hockey prospects.

The camp in Buffalo will feature head coaches and scouts from the NHL and its minor-league affiliate, the American Hockey League.

When the team arrives in Italy, it will spend the first four days touring the city as its players get acquainted with one another, Templin said.

"A tournament like this really pushes their game to a new level," he said. "It opens their eyes to how good they need to be to stand out at more than just a local level."

Twenty-eight current NHL players are alumni of the Selects organization, including San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture and St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

"These tournaments are the prelude to the Junior Olympics, the Olympics, you name it," said Roman Bussetti, Austin's head coach for the last two seasons with the Peewee Minor squad, one of nine teams in the Team Comcast amateur youth hockey organization, based out of the Flyers Skate Zone in Pennsauken. The organization is one of 20 that play in the national Tier 1 Elite Hockey league.

Bussetti was quick to praise Austin's abilities, describing him as small for his position and a lightning-quick skater with a very mature vision for the game.

"He's got a 'be better than everybody' attitude," Bussetti said. "He knows when he's flat-out faster than everyone else on the ice."

Austin's father and assistant coach, Jeff Cook, helped him into his first pair of skates when the boy was around 4, and has coached his son on a series of teams since. However, he said his son's dedication to the game has stunned even him.

"I built him a net in our garage, and he just started shooting every day," said Cook, himself an alumnus of the Little Flyers youth hockey organization. "I don't push him to do it at all. It's all on his own."

Austin's not all about hockey, his father said. He is a principal's list student and avid reader.

Templin stressed that the tournaments are more about building players into well-rounded individuals than they are about churning out NHL-caliber players.

As for those that did make it to pro hockey, even they "still talk frequently about the memories they made here," he said.


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