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Uncertainty in Arizona, drive to win a NCAA title in St. Paul fuel Cooley's Gopher return

When the vote to build a new Arizona Coyotes rink in Tempe failed, a big piece of their future decided that NHL hockey can wait another year, and Logan Cooley announced his return to the U of M.

LOGAN.COOLEY.jpg
University of Minnesota forward Logan Cooley leans into a slap shot in the opening period of the Gophers victory against Minnesota State University, Mankato, on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Brad Rempel / University of Minnesota athletics

PITTSBURGH — An often-quoted Chinese proverb theorizes that the beating of a butterfly’s wings can be felt on the other side of the world.

Tempe, Arizona, is not exactly on the other side of the world from Logan Cooley’s hometown of Pittsburgh, but the results of a vote in the desert southwest certainly had a butterfly effect in both western Pennsylvania and, in turn, the State of Hockey roughly three days later.

Speaking to the media via Zoom on Saturday, Cooley admitted that his decision to spend one more season as a Minnesota Gopher — which he announced on Friday — came at least in part due to the Tempe voters’ rejection of ballot measures that would have led to a new arena for the Arizona Coyotes. Cooley admitted that if the ballot measure had been approved (instead, 56 percent of voters said no), he may have signed with the Coyotes this week.

“I was kind of leaning toward going, but I think also at the same point, they’re both great options,” said Cooley, who was the Gophers’ leading scorer as a rookie and was one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, given to college hockey’s top player. “Either way, if it went through or it didn’t, in the back of my head I still feel like I have a lot left to do in college hockey.”

For all of the individual accolades that Cooley, 19, has grabbed in his career, he noted that his teams have fallen short of the ultimate title in things like last summer’s U-18 World Championship, last winter’s World Junior Championship, and last month in the NCAA title game, where Cooley and the Gophers led Quinnipiac with less than three minutes left in regulation, only to fall in overtime.

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“I still wanted to get that big thing of winning a national championship and add that to my name, and to the Gophers history too would be pretty special,” he said. “That was kind of why the main reason was for coming back too.”

Cooley’s announcement came on the heels of Gophers second line center Jaxon Nelson , second line winger Bryce Brodzinski and starting goalie Justen Close all electing to return to the Gophers next season and take one more run at the program’s first NCAA title in more than two decades.

A check of the NCAA tournament schedule for 2024 shows that the Frozen Four will be played at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, and Cooley said the expectation is nothing less than getting there and winning two games before what would surely be a Gophers fan dominated sellout crowd.

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“I believe that’s how we’d write it up if we could,” said Cooley, whose team will play a non-conference game versus St. Thomas at Xcel on Oct. 13. “To be in St. Paul and have us winning it there, that would be honestly like a movie, and to be part of that would be an honor. That’s definitely my goal and everyone on the Gophers’ goal.”

Cooley said his plans for the summer are still up in the air, although he said he will train in Pittsburgh with a group of current NHLers and he expects to spend some time in Minnesota as well. Whether or not he will attend a Coyotes development camp has not been decided.

Uncertainty reigns in metro Phoenix these days, where the Coyotes have announced they will play a second season at Mullett Arena, the Arizona State home rink with seats for fewer than 5,000. Just hours after the Tempe vote failed , they switched their focus to Mesa, another Phoenix suburb, and said a former shopping mall site could be developed into their next home rink.

There is also plenty of speculation that the Coyotes could move to another city a year from now. None of that is weighing on Cooley’s mind as he ponders the unfinished business at the U of M.

Michigan State vs Minnesota
Sandwiched by teammates Ryan Johnson (left) and Jimmy Snuggerud (right), Minnesota forward Logan Cooley was congratulated after scoring versus Michigan State just nine seconds into a game between the Gophers and Spartans on Friday, January 27, 2023 at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Eric Miller / Gopher Sports

“I’m not concerned at all. The ownership of the Arizona Coyotes is fantastic and I know they’ll figure it out,” Cooley said. “I know the NHL will do things the right way, whether that’s Arizona, that would be great, or whether that’s Houston, they’re all great spots to play in.”

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He did admit that the 2023-24 season will likely be his last as a collegian and he expects to sign a pro contract 11 months from now. Whether that will come after a Gophers’ NCAA title celebration is what he and his college teammates will need to decide on the ice.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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