Editor's note: The News will be running “Where are they now?” as a bi-monthly feature telling where former athletes from Pictou County are living now, what they are doing and how their athletic experiences in the past shaped who they are today. If you or someone you know competed in any type of sport in this area and think their story is worth telling, let us know by emailing email@example.com or call Adam at 928-3505.
By Adam MacInnis
James Cooley was like most young boys who grow up playing hockey. His dreams knew no limitations and he planned to one day compete in the NHL – his face on a card for children to trade.
At some point things changed and he realized that’s just not possible for everybody who plays the sport.
“You grow with the game,” explains Cooley. “You realize, ‘Maybe I’m not going to make it.’”
While he accepted that as a teenager, he did not give up on dreams and was determined to make the most of his hockey career.
In the fall of 2004 that pursuit brought him to Pictou County as a member of the new Weeks Crushers franchise which had brought the junior A team from Halifax. It was a move that would change his life dramatically.
Prior to the move Cooley had been playing junior A hockey in Halifax while living at his home in Cole Harbour. While ideal at the time, by 2004 he was ready for a change. The move to Pictou County was a perfect transition for him because it was just far enough away to gain independence while still being close enough to go home on a regular basis, he said.
“I found that was very helpful in my growth as a person – to be able to get away and become independent,” he says looking back.
At six feet, 200 pounds, Cooley would play a major role on the Crushers blue line for two seasons. In the 2004/2005 season he scored seven goals and had 14 assists in 47 games. In 2005/2006 he had an impressive 19 goals and 19 assists in 53 games while serving 153 penalty minutes.
They were building years for the Weeks Hockey Organization. The first season they lost in the first round of playoffs. The next year they lost in the division final.
But even without championship wins, Cooley says the community was always welcoming to the players and there was no shortage of fans.
“They were always nice and very supportive,” he said.
Of all the games and road trips, Cooley still believes it was the people who made his memories the best. One person in particular he met in Pictou County had a lasting impact.
Nicole Wheadon had come to the John Brother MacDonald Stadium to watch a hockey game with her father. She didn’t realize at the time that the players were her own age, but soon spotted a friend on the ice. They talked afterward and he introduced her to Cooley.
It was the start of a lasting romance. The pair stayed together and are now engaged to be married.
Hockey continued to influence Cooley’s life after he left the Crushers. His experience earned him a spot on the University of P.E.I.’s roster and for the next four years he would play for the team while getting his secondary education.
That education is a benefit of hockey he’s still thankful for. He also found that the characteristics he learned from hockey have helped him in the business world.
He’s now working for Live for Today, a pool and spa company based in P.E.I. that serves the Maritimes.
“I would definitely say that my experience through hockey prepared me for business,” said Cooley. “The hard work ethic that is taught through hockey, team work and things like that have definitely helped me.”
He’s thankful to the sport and to Pictou County for helping make him who he is today.
“There’s a huge impact for people who are fortunate enough to play hockey at a higher level,” he said. “There are great benefits that come with it.”