Before the 2021-22 season was even over, Belfast Giants head coach Adam Keefe and head of hockey operations Steve Thornton made winger Mark Cooper aware they wanted him back with the team next campaign.
Why wouldn’t they? The Canadian winger was one of their best players in scoring a career-high 33 goals in his first season in Belfast, driving the offence on a dynamic second line and helping the Giants win both the Elite League and Challenge Cup.
But it was that feeling of being wanted that stuck with Cooper when he went back to Ontario in the off-season. Having bounced around seven teams in six years in the minor leagues in North America, the knowledge that he was a key part of the puzzle for next campaign was a very inviting prospect for the 30-year-old.
“In minor hockey you bounce around from city to city each year. It’s nice to go back to a place where my feet are already settled and there won’t be a learning experience to what the League and city will be like,” said Cooper, who last night was confirmed to have signed a new one-year deal.
“Once I left Belfast and reflected on the year I had, there were just so many special moments on the ice and in the community. I knew I wanted to play hockey again and do it in Belfast in front of such an amazing fanbase.
“Once the stars aligned, it was very easy to sign that contract. I just love Belfast. I’m excited to get back and get rolling again with the CHL and then getting stuck into our title defence.”
As well as his love for Belfast, the Toronto man concedes there is another reason he’s back with the Giants: he wants to go one better than last season after the heartbreak of missing out on the clean sweep after their Play-Off final defeat to the Cardiff Devils.
“That last game in Nottingham left a sour taste in our mouths, all of the team. But winning is contagious. Hopefully we get the League title wrapped up a bit earlier this time and that can help us prepare for the Play-Offs!” laughed Cooper, who was named Coaches’ Player of the Year last season.
“We’re trying to build off last year, keep putting banners in the rafters is the goal. I know Keefer and Thornts have some big plans with the new guys coming in, so I’m excited to meet them and be back with the old guys.”
The Giants also announced the re-signings of defenceman Mark Garside and netminder Andrew Dickson last night.
Garside, a 33-year-old former GB international, returns for his 12th season in teal coming off a season in which he scored one goal and 19 points, while Ballymoney man Dickson will fill the third goalie role.