Goaltender stands tall for Big Green

Dartmouth College goaltender Cooper Black in action against Union on March 16, 2024, at Thompson Arena in Hanover, N.H. The 6-foot-8 sophomore is considered one of the best free agent backstops in the country and has drawn considerable NHL attention. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Dartmouth College goaltender Cooper Black in action against Union on March 16, 2024, at Thompson Arena in Hanover, N.H. The 6-foot-8 sophomore is considered one of the best free agent backstops in the country and has drawn considerable NHL attention. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. —Tris Wykes

Dartmouth College goaltender Cooper Black in action against Union on March 16, 2024, at Thompson Arena in Hanover, N.H. The 6-foot-8 sophomore is considered one of the best free agent backstops in the country and has drawn considerable NHL attention. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Dartmouth College goaltender Cooper Black in action against Union on March 16, 2024, at Thompson Arena in Hanover, N.H. The 6-foot-8 sophomore is considered one of the best free agent backstops in the country and has drawn considerable NHL attention. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. —Tris Wykes

Dartmouth College goaltender Cooper Black in action against Union on March 16, 2024, at Thompson Arena in Hanover, N.H. The 6-foot-8 sophomore is considered one of the best free agent backstops in the country and has drawn considerable NHL attention. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Dartmouth College goaltender Cooper Black in action against Union on March 16, 2024, at Thompson Arena in Hanover, N.H. The 6-foot-8 sophomore is considered one of the best free agent backstops in the country and has drawn considerable NHL attention. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. —Tris Wykes

Dartmouth College goaltender Cooper Black (31) in action against Union on March 16, 2024, at Thompson Arena in Hanover, N.H. The Big Green won the best-of-three ECAC quarterfinal playoff series and advanced to the semifinals in Lake Placid, N.Y. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Dartmouth College goaltender Cooper Black (31) in action against Union on March 16, 2024, at Thompson Arena in Hanover, N.H. The Big Green won the best-of-three ECAC quarterfinal playoff series and advanced to the semifinals in Lake Placid, N.Y. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. —Tris Wykes

Dartmouth College goaltender Cooper Black, left, celebrates a victory against Union on March 16, 2024, at Thompson Arena in Hanover, N.H. The 6-foot-8 sophomore is considered one of the best free agent backstops in the country and has drawn considerable NHL attention. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Dartmouth College goaltender Cooper Black, left, celebrates a victory against Union on March 16, 2024, at Thompson Arena in Hanover, N.H. The 6-foot-8 sophomore is considered one of the best free agent backstops in the country and has drawn considerable NHL attention. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. —Tris Wykes

Cooper Back

Cooper Back Chloe Broeker—

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-21-2024 6:27 PM

Modified: 03-22-2024 8:58 AM


HANOVER — Clint Mylymok, general manager of the Maryland Black Bears, quietly assessed the dozens of teenagers milling about before his junior hockey team’s tryout camp during the spring of 2019. Most were specifically invited or already signed, college prospects or destined to soon to reach higher rungs of the sport in the U.S. or Canada.

As always, however, there were some walk-ons. Eager kids who were there simply to gain experience in a pressure-packed situation or who hoped they’d beat the towering odds to catch Mylymok’s eye. It didn’t happen often, but every now and then, a gem was uncovered this way.

It appeared at first glance that Cooper Black wasn’t going to be one of them.

“He looked like a tall coat hanger,” Mylymok, said with a chuckle while discussing the future Dartmouth College goaltender, who arrived at 6-foot-6 and perhaps 170 pounds. “He was naive, but sometimes it’s better to not know you’re not supposed to make a team.”

Black and his parents, Ed and Meaghan, had driven more than 12 hours from Alpena, their northern Michigan town of 12,000 on the banks of Lake Huron. It was the fifth or sixth such trip they’d made during the past two months, seeking anyone willing to take a chance on a netminder from the hockey hinterlands.

“A lot of people wanted to kick the tires and say maybe,” said Ed Black, a 26th circuit court judge, who at that point still thought likely his son would become discouraged and attend Michigan State to become a veterinarian or a biologist. “But until Maryland, no one had said yes.”

Cooper Black survived a series of cuts that whittled 30 goalies down to three. Then he made Maryland’s opening-night roster and earned a spot in the all-star game for the North American Hockey League, the second-highest circuit under the USA Hockey umbrella.

“We got him at the start of his rise,” said Mylynok, who watched Black surrender a goal 20 seconds into his first Bears tryout game but not allow another the rest of the weekend. “His talent was very raw but undeniable, but it’s his mindset and work ethic that separates him from other goalies.”

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That performance led to Black starting the next season in Omaha, Neb., with a team in the United States Hockey League, the country’s top junior league. He also sent out an Instagram message committing to “Dartmouth University”, although he’d need another two years of seasoning before matriculation.

The USHL kept playing through the COVID-19 pandemic when others shut down, drawing an influx of returning players and bouncing Black, by now 6-8 and 190 pounds, back down to the NAHL, this time in Odessa, Tex.

The Jackalopes, nicknamed for a mythical creature that’s a cross between a jack rabbit and an antelope, won only 12 games that winter. Black played well enough, however, to earn a slot the next season in the British Canadian Junior Hockey League, considered by many the best hunting ground for U.S. college teams.

After leading the Nainamo Clippers to the league finals and earning team MVP honors, Black has played all but four of Dartmouth’s games the past two seasons. A talented freshman class and a big, fast roster has improved from winning five of 30 games last winter to losing only nine of 31 a year later.

“We’ve spent a lot less time in our defensive zone this year,” said Black, although he views last season’s silver lining as the heavy workload that made him better. “When you can’t get out, it’s really grueling on goalies because you’re always tense, ready for a shot.”

The fourth-seeded Big Green plays second-seeded Cornell on Friday night in the postseason tournament semifinals at Herb Brooks Arena, site of the 1980 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team’s “Miracle On Ice” gold-medal victory.

Triumph in the title game against either top-seeded Quinnipiac or seventh-seeded St. Lawerence would bring Dartmouth its first NCAA berth since 1980, ending the longest return drought among Division I programs.

“If Cooper’s depth and angles are right, there’s literally no net to shoot at,” said fourth-year Dartmouth coach Reid Cashman a former Quinnipiac standout as a player and assistant coach whose team has twice tied Cornell this season. “The biggest compliment I can offer him for last weekend is I can’t remember a single acrobatic save. He was already where he was supposed to be.”

Jason Tapp, Dartmouth’s associate head coach and its goaltending tutor, was once a 5-7 Boston University backstop. He’s worked on simplifying Black’s skating, getting him consistently square to shooters and keeping his arms close to his sides and his shoulders down over his leg pads. Black said he’s creeping up on 6-9 and weighs 240 pounds after maniacally eating and lifting weights during the six months following last season.

Black, 22, was recently named second-team ECAC and is 13-7-8 with a 2.62 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage. His size also allows him to deny opponents’ back-door pass attempts and his quick and powerful side-to-side slides along the goal line have broken half a dozen of Thompson Arena’s hard-rubber pegs that hold the net posts in place.

A multi-subject major in politics, philosophy and economics, Black is the NCAA’s top free-agent goaltender, according to Cashman, who said roughly 20 of the NHL’s 32 teams have sent scouts to watch him in person. Just the idea amazes Ed Black, who used to pay a couple of men’s hockey league buddies a case of beer to shoot on his 16-year old son at the Alpena ice rink.

“He was a normal-sized high school junior who I figured would be done with hockey in a year,” recalled the father, noting that he and his wife try not to discuss hockey with the oldest of their three children. “It’s odd for me to even think about him playing pro and the idea of him leaving early keeps me up at night.”

Ed Black paused, then resumed with a laugh.

“If he does go, he’d better save his signing bonus for tuition down the road.”

Those tempting NHL offers are presumably awaiting at the end of Dartmouth’s season. Former Big Green goaltender Clay Stevenson, who left in 2022, has posted an impressive line of 20-8-2 with a 1.87 GAA and a .930 save percentage for the Washington Capitals’ top farm team this season.

“Cooper has a decision to make, but I know he values getting his degree,” said Cashman, a former Capitals assistant. “It’s a good problem to have if our guys are being offered a chance to sign.”

Said Black: “In my mind, I’m here for this season and next season and it’s kind of irrelevant until after that. I just want to be present and enjoy the moment at hand.”

The coat hanger could be wearing more expensive clothes in the not-too-distant future.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.