COOPER, WHEAT KINGS HOST HITMEN

Jan 08, 2013 - 01:56 CST

(Courtesy of Rob Henderson, Brandon Sun) -- Taylor Cooper’s first Western Hockey€ˆLeague goal came easily. It was the second one that took some patience.

Now that he’s got that troublesome marker out of the way, the 17-year-old Brandon Wheat Kings rookie is showing the form that made him one of the top scorers in the Alberta AAA Midget Hockey€ˆLeague last season.

The left-winger from Sherwood Park scored the Wheat Kings’ first goal of the season, less than five minutes into his first WHL game. He didn’t find the net again until Dec. 15, but has been making up for lost time lately, with four goals and two assists in his last seven games.

“There was the odd joke going around that I would score 72 goals, but I knew it was going to be a tough year as a first-year player,” Cooper said of his opening tally.

“(Having recent success) raises my confidence a lot and after Christmas I kinda feel like a different player, getting used to the schedule and how much we play and practice.”

Heading into this Saturday night’s home game against the visiting Regina Pats, Cooper has five goals and eight assists in 37 games. With team scoring leader Alessio Bertaggia away at the world junior hockey championship and fellow freshmen Jayce Hawryluk and John Quenneville at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, Cooper has taken advantage of his increased opportunity and helped to fill the void.

“I think Taylor’s improved as the season’s gone on,” Wheat Kings head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk said. “He’s progressed very well. We all knew that Taylor had a knack for the net. He had a little bit of an offensive upside (and) he could shoot the puck very well. … He’s learned what he had to do day-to-day on and off the ice to become a Western Hockey League player. He plays the game honest and I think he’s starting to see some of those rewards for sure.”

“We put (the loss against the Hitmen) away and it has to come from within our team to come out in the next game and have the confidence to play as hard as you can,” he said.

» rhenders@brandonsun.com