Ian Cooper was one of our most talented and respected forwards, being capped 80 times for Great Britain and playing over 600 games with Durham Wasps, Cardiff Devils and London Knights, winning numerous major trophies.
Always keen to give back to the sport he loves, he served as chairman of the Ice Hockey Players Association (GB) during the upheaval of the Superleague days, and is a trustee of the charitable organisation, the Ice Hockey Players Benevolent Fund.
He and his older brother Stephen – also a Hall of Fame member – were taken to their first game by their parents before they were ten and were immediately hooked. Living halfway between Sunderland and Durham, he played at the new Crowtree rink in Sunderland six days a week “with an old stick and an old pair of skates”, and at the age of 15 he topped the scoring in the Northern section of the English Junior League.
In the second year of the Heineken British League, 1984-85, he joined Stephen on Durham Wasps and his career took off as he became part of one of the Wasps’ finest ever teams, capturing six major trophies in four seasons. Ian’s own banner year came in 1987-88 when he was voted onto the All Star ‘A’ team and was awarded the accolade of Young British Player of the Year. His memorable prize, which was sponsored by the magazine Ice Hockey News Review and the Canadian province of Alberta, was an invitation to Calgary Flames’ NHL training camp.
Cardiff’s ambitious coach John Lawless then made him (and brother Stephen) an offer that enabled him to give up his day job and he helped the Devils to promotion while gaining a place on the All-Star ‘A’ team again. Only a year later, Cardiff surprised their rivals by pulling off the Premier Division and British Championship double.
When Durham made him a tempting offer to return to his old stamping ground, he rewarded them with over 100 points in each season, 1990-91 and 1991-92, a key ingredient in the Wasps’ remarkable capture of five more of the league’s most prestigious pots. When another counter-offer came from Wales, during the next six years he and the Devils added three league titles, two British Championships and an Autumn Cup medal to their haul.
Boosted by the Heineken sponsorship, national television and the Sports Council-inspired programme of rink building, the 13 seasons between 1984-85 and 1997-98 saw the biggest surge in the sport’s popularity since the 1930s, and eventually led to the formation of the ambitious Superleague. While this was wonderful for the fans, the players were concerned about their wages, safety, and playing contracts, and the home-grown talent were upset at being crowded out by overseas players.
Ian considered it his duty to come to the aid of his fellow players and he served six years as chairman of the Ice Hockey Players Association (GB), representing the players’ ‘trade union’ on the British Ice Hockey Association and the British Olympic Committee. Unfortunately, this inevitably produced conflict with Cardiff’s chairman David Temme, who was also chairman of the Superleague, and he was let go in the summer of 1998.
He wasn’t short of offers and eagerly accepted one from the Superleague’s ‘flagship’ club, London Knights. They appointed him their first captain, a great honour as he was the only Brit on their roster. But it was a difficult inaugural campaign for the Knights and for season two they brought in the charismatic but controversial Chris McSorley. Ian and the hard-driving Canadian coach did not see eye-to-eye and he was released in mid season.
On the face of it, he made a good move when he was snapped up by the well-run Guildford Flames, which finished runners-up in the second tier British National League. Unfortunately, he was becoming disillusioned with the state of the sport, and after a handful of games with Chelmsford Chieftains, who competed on the third level, he quit playing aged 32, and went into business. Over his 17-year career, he scored 1,620 points (760 goals) in 793 games, with 1,591 penalty minutes.
Ian was a stalwart of the Great Britain senior team for 11 years, debuting on their re-entry to World Championship play in 1989, helping them to win promotion to Pool A and then battling against the likes of Canada and Russia in 1994. His national team career comprised 13 World Championships (including one qualifying series) and two Olympic Qualifying competitions, during which he scored a total of 61 points (30 goals) in 80 games, putting him in the top half-dozen on the all-time points scoring list. He represented his country at under-18 level three times, starting in 1984, and did a four-year stint with GB’s under-20s, for which he was first selected at the age of 16.
A playmaker, rather than a pure goal scorer, with a tough but fair approach to the game, his GB coaches valued him highly. “He displays pride when he plays. He gives his all,” said Alex Dampier. Peter Woods added: “Game in, game out he has always been consistent. The sport has benefited from his attitude.”
Ian Cooper was born on 29 November 1968 at Peterlee, Co Durham. In 1996, he was presented with the Ahearne Medal for his contributions to the sport by BIHA president Frederick Meredith. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.