Vern Cooper, who plays for the Michigan-based Plymouth Whalers, is a member of the Waswanipi Cree First Nation.

Like a lot of youth, Cooper started skating at the age of four and was playing hockey by the age of five. Inspired by his brothers and by his community, the 19-year-old uses that to motivate himself to be the best!

Hockey has become a way out for a lot of First Nation youth and it has given them something to strive for! Cooper says that the team structure gives youth in a lot of communities a reason to do better and keeps them away from the negative aspects of growing up poor!

A dedicated Ottawa Senators fan, Cooper admires a lot of NFL players, especially Derek Roy (Buffalo Sabres) and Martin St. Louis (Tampa Bay Lightning). As for Aboriginal players, he looks to San Jose Shark Jonathan Cheechoo, who gave him pointers on what to do to succeed. He also knows Cheechoo’s family, which also helped a lot!

In the Ontario Hockey League 2006 draft, Cooper was 13th overall and selected in the first round by the Plymouth Whalers. Not only was he one of the youngest players that season, he completed it in style with a championship.

Though he struggled with the English language when he first moved to Sudbury in 2000, it was the culture shock that was most difficult. When he got to Plymouth, he got along quite well with his team-mates and experienced little negativity! He wears No. 9 in honour of his cousin who passed away few years ago.

This year being his NHL draft year, Cooper said that it doesn’t matter which team chooses him as long as he gets there! Like a lot of young players, Cooper dreams of making it to the NHL because when it will the culmination of a long journey!

So far this season Cooper has 17 goals and 37 points with 62 penalty minutes. When making it to the NHL, Cooper hopes to be the role model that a lot of NHLers have become. He wants kids to look up to him and see that with hard work and determination anyone can make it to the NHL!

Like the saying goes, you can do anything you set your mind to and that includes the NHL!