Earlier this week, Josh Cooper made his debut at The Tennessean as the new beat writer covering the Nashville Predators, and he's hit the ground running with multiple blog posts every day along with updates via Twitter (where you can find him at @JoshuaCooper), particularly from the informal practices which many of the Predators have been conducting out at Centennial Sportsplex.
When we got news that John Glennon was moving over to cover the Titans earlier this summer, there was concern among Preds fans as to what The Tennessean was going to do on the hockey front. To help us get familiar with him, I asked Josh to answer a few questions so we could get to know him better.
Follow after the jump to find out about this Vanderbilt grad's hockey background, which includes modeling himself after Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Murphy, and a conversation with legendary U.S. Men's Olympic coach Herb Brooks...
OtF: Tell us a bit about your professional background and how you came to the Preds' beat.
The first event I covered was the Vanderbilt/Tennessee women's basketball game at Memorial Gym in 2002. From that moment on, I was hooked on journalism. In college, I was the sports editor of my student newspaper, The Vanderbilt Hustler, but I also dabbled in various media opportunities around town. I was actually a Nashville Predators communications intern from 2002-04 and was in the press box for the team's first playoff series against Detroit. My first big break in journalism came in the summer of 2004 when I worked for the Athens Olympic Organizing Committee covering baseball for Olympic News Service at the 2004 Olympics.
I graduated from Vanderbilt in the spring of 2005 and interned with Baseball America that summer and The Birmingham News the following fall. This somehow led me back to the Olympics where I covered bobsled, luge and skeleton for Olympic News Service at the Torino Olympics. Following the Olympics I picked up a job covering the University of Alabama for The Decatur Daily. A wise man once told me that the Alabama beat is the second hardest beat in the country behind the New York Yankees. He wasn't kidding -- it was intense. And it got even crazier when Alabama hired Nick Saban in January of 2007. I left the 'Bama Beat in April of 2009 to take a job in Vancouver, B.C., working for the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee on its version of Olympic News Service. While I was there, I did some freelance work covering a few Canucks games, a little CFL and some soccer. I came back to the United States -- actually to Nashville -- in April 2010 and did some freelance work for the Sporting News, ESPN.com Insider, the Associated Press and Brentwoodhomepage.com.
OtF: One of your tweets the other day mentioned that you used to play defense, so what's your hockey story?
When I was a kid growing up in New York City, hockey was far and away my favorite sport. I started skating when I was about five and started playing when I was eight and kept playing until I was 19. When I was a peewee, my team was short on defensemen, and we were about two weeks from the start of the season. So the coach asked players to volunteer to play defense. I was a forward at the time, but I raised my hand. Don't really know why to be honest. I was a huge Pavel Bure fan and wore No. 10.
But after my first big hit in my first game, I knew I never wanted to change positions. I modeled myself after Larry Murphy, and even wore No. 55.
In terms of hockey knowledge, my dad has been a Rangers season ticket holder since before I was born and I've been going to games for what feels like forever. The three greatest games I observed live as a kid, probably go in this order:
1. 1993-94 Eastern Conference Finals Game 7
2. 1993-94 Stanley Cup Finals Game 7
3a. Wayne Gretzky's final game
3b. Mario Lemieux's five-goal outburst against the Rangers in 1992-93
My senior class project in high school was on the 1980 Miracle on Ice team. I somehow used backchannel communications to set up an interview with Herb Brooks. I talked to him for about 20 minutes on the phone, and still ended up with a B+. I think the grader had a vendetta against me.
At the 2003 NHL Draft, I bumped into a Penguins scout I knew from hockey camp who wanted to introduce us. Brooks had left for the day. I never got the chance - he passed away later that summer in a tragic automobile accident. I would have loved the opportunity to shake his hand.
OtF: It looks like you've got the blogging thing down pretty quickly, with 5 updates just over the last two days. Do you see the blog format as something you'll use often this season?
I love the blog. It's truly a way to increase the level of information for the fan and also give it in a way that's more conversational. I enjoy the traditional news story writing aspect of my job, but if a good quote doesn't fit in a piece, why not supplement it in a blog entry? I understand that fans have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge about their team and the blog is a way to give them a little sip of water on a daily basis.
OtF: What would you say so far are the 2 biggest stories to watch when training camp opens in two weeks?
The biggest story is Shea Weber as captain. A changing of the leadership guard is always important in hockey, and it will be interesting to see Weber's leadership style and how it will permeate throughout the team. In watching him play and talking to him, he definitely seems to have that captain-type mentality, but we won't know for sure until he actually puts on the ‘C'
Second biggest story is the goaltending situation. Pekke Rinne has never been the unquestioned starter for an entire NHL season. How will he handle this role for a full year? With no proven backup, it all falls squarely on him.
Thanks to Josh participating, I think Nashville Predators fans can all agree that we're happy to have a true hockey guy taking over the beat. - Dirk
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