WITH this being my 1,300th column, over the past 25 years, in recognizing the exploits of Thunder Bay’s hockey standouts over the decades, I knew there was no better person to look back on during this personal milestone moment, than the legendary Gary Cook.
Mr. Cook, as I always enjoyed acknowledging him as, was simply (Cookie) to the many of us that knew him.
Beginning a 50-year association with another local icon, the late Albert (Ab) Cava, Mr. Cook joined the Port Arthur North Stars junior side in his teens as a stick boy and assistant trainer.
When Cava stepped back as a player and moved into coaching, Cookie was by right his side when he took over behind the bench of the fabled Port Arthur Marr’s, who went on to win the western Canadian junior crown before falling to the Toronto Marlboros in the 1967 Memorial Cup final.
Eventually joining the Thunder Bay Twins, he and Vic Fortes served as team trainers on the 1975 Allan Cup-winning club.
Later becoming general manager of the Twins, Mr. Cook built the roster that went on to capture four more Allan Cups, joining Bill McDonald, Gary Linquist Sr., and Darrell Clarke as individuals who were all part of each of the record-setting five Canadian senior hockey crowns, in various capacities.
Next came another challenge for him, with the berth of the Colonial Hockey League and the formation of the Thunder Bay Thunder Hawks in 1991.
There with Cookie at the helm as GM and McDonald as head coach, the dynamic tandem helped propel the squad to the first-ever Colonial Cup championship in ‘92.
And in back-to-back CoHL titles in 1994 & ’95, as the Thunder Bay Senators, Cookie continued to work his magic by beating the bushes and providing McDonald with a continual array of talent that proved tough to beat on any night.
He also played a pivotal part in the team’s affiliation with the NHL’s Ottawa Senators.
Those efforts earned him Colonial League Executive of the Year laurels in 1995.
With all his achievements, he could have easily sat back and reflected on all his past glories.
No so for Mr. Cook though, as he got on board with the fledgling Superior International Junior Hockey League and was a key voice in its early days.
While also taking over the GM reigns of the local North Stars’ squad, he along with one of his former CoHL players, Todd Howarth, as coach made them a Jr. A power.
From 2004 through 2006, the North Stars won three straight SIJHL Bill Salonen Cups and also came away triumphant, by claiming the Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canadian Jr. A Trophy, that eventually led to a semifinal placing at the national championship event.
Having the pleasure of attending the 2000 NHL Draft in Calgary, and another in Toronto with him, one got a full scope of his admiration from others also taking part.
You could not stroll around anywhere without an NHL GM, coach, scout, or the like, coming up to him, without some sort of courteous hockey banter, and asking his opinion on a certain player, or if he knew of someone that could help their respective franchises.
No doubt his rolodex was full of names and numbers of the game’s elite from coast-to-coast across North America, who would gladly take his call, or any given day contact him, without reservation, over a hockey matter.
You fully realized his importance throughout the game, when even the National Hockey League paid homage to him, following his passing back in 2008. They did so by providing a look back at his involvement in the sport, with a detailed feature on their website, despite him having no official role or part of an NHL organization.
Grateful for opportunities to work with him, have our many chats, being a proud past recipient of the Gary Cook Memorial Award, as well as pleased to have called him a friend, there has been no equal for what he accomplished in hockey for Thunder Bay.
Deservedly inducted into the ‘Builders’ category of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, Mr. Cook remains the embodiment of hockey greatness in our city.
- H.K.’s CARD CORNER
- The Cards
- The Cards
- Thunder Bay Twins: 1970-77
- Thunder Bay Twins: 1977-84
- Thunder Bay Twins: 1984-91
- Bombers: 2004-05
- Twins: 2008-09
- Thunder Bay Flyers: 1984-2000
- SIJHL – JR. A: 2001-02
- SIJHL: 2012-22