QUEBEC CITY — While attending a hockey clinic at the Hockey Hut in Clifton Park, New York at 7 years old, Cooper Volski saw a banner of the Adirondack Jr Wings hanging in the rink.
There was something special about that team. It grabbed the attention of the Arlington boy, who set his sights on joining the tier-1 junior hockey program.
“I used to go there and I’d see those (banners) and I always wanted to be on that team,” Cooper said.
Fast forward five years and Cooper is one of the newest members of the AAA team composed of the very best 12-year-olds in eastern upstate New York and bordering Vermont towns.
Now Cooper and his new team are gearing up for the largest minor hockey tournament in the world — the Peewee Quebec International Tournament — which features more than 2000 athletes from more than 15 countries competing in what is unofficially considered the “world championship of pee wee hockey.”
Cooper said he feels a mix of nerves and excitement leading up to the tournament, which begins Feb. 7 and features round-robin play followed by a single-elimination playoff bracket.
He’s excited to play on the ice in the 18,259 seat Videotron Centre, a potential landing spot for a National Hockey League expansion franchise.
It won’t be the first time Cooper’s played under the bright lights. He’s traveled around the country with the Clifton Park Dynamo — another high-level junior hockey program based in New York — playing in places such as Colorado, St. Louis and Omaha, Nebraska. He’s even played on the home ice of the Division I Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Playing in larger venues — the same place the next potential NHL star will play — is something Cooper cherishes.
“It’s cool when you’re there because you get to see what it’s like for them when they’re playing the games,” Cooper said.
Quebec offers those same opportunities, as more than 1,200 tournament alumni have gone on to play in the NHL. Cooper’s also excited to stay with a billet family during his time in Canada, which “allows (players) to experience a French immersion and become familiar with Quebec culture,” according to the tournament’s website.
The foundation of Cooper’s hockey journey was laid when he was 4, learning to skate at Manchester’s Riley Rink. He plays the wing — either left or right — and was drawn to the sport because of its pace and physicality.
“It’s a fast moving game and more physical than some other sports; I like it like that,” Cooper said.
Hockey runs in the Volski family. Dad Rich also played high level junior hockey while growing up in New Jersey, though the youth scene has changed substantially since his playing days in the 1980s.
“We never really had tier-1 hockey available,” Rich said. “That was something that really morphed into (existence) maybe in the last 10 years.”
While there are differences in today’s youth scene, some things remain the same. Rich remembers playing against teams like the Mid Fairfield Jr Rangers and the Connecticut Jr Rangers. Now, he watches Cooper take the ice against those same teams.
Rich recalled Cooper’s early playing days, when he was first introduced to the Junior Wings during that clinic.
“Ever since I was taking them to the Hockey Hut I would see the pictures of kids that went to Pee Wee Quebec — pictures with teams from Russia and Czechoslovakia and they have their arms around each other — and (I thought) wow, wouldn’t that be cool if they were able to do that,” Rich said. “Sure enough, he was able to make that team this year; I was blown away and I’m so happy for him to share in the experience.”
When he’s not on the ice, Cooper likes to snowboard in the winter and ride dirt bikes in the summer. He also plays another stick sport, lacrosse, in the spring.