It is with great sadness that Hockey Canada announces that National Sledge Team member Matt Cook has lost his battle with cancer. Matt passed away peacefully at home in Edmonton on Sunday, , surrounded by his family.
While playing Junior A hockey with the Bonnyville Pontiacs of the Alberta Junior Hockey League in 2006, Matt was diagnosed with bone cancer and eventually had his left leg amputated below the knee.
In the spring of 2007, Matt was first introduced to the sport of sledge hockey at the RBC Cup, Canada’s National Junior A Championship in Prince George, B.C., where his brother Brady was captaining the Camrose Kodiaks. Several national team members were in Prince George showcasing their sport, and had an opportunity to meet Matt and his family during their stay. Until that introduction, Matt had little interest in playing sledge hockey. Once he found out that the sport was just like able-bodied hockey – fast-paced, highly skilled and physical, his opinion changed and he quickly committed himself to the sport.
By the fall of 2008, Matt’s play had improved to the point that he received an invitation to the national team selection camp in Toronto. Expectations were low as he had only been playing the game for a year and had little experience. However, the team’s coaching staff soon realized how special a player and person Matt was. He was named to the team’s 18-player roster, and by March 2009 he was named to the team’s 15-player roster for the 2009 IPC Sledge Hockey World Championship, where Canada came home with a bronze medal. Matt earned every minute of playing time that he received and was the consummate team player, constantly encouraging and pushing his teammates to be better. Matt wasn’t happy with just being on the team – he wanted to be an elite player.
Matt was expected to be a big part of Team Canada for the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, but in the summer of 2009, his cancer returned. He recovered from major surgery in record time and was back on the ice with the team in August at Hockey Canada’s orientation camp for its men’s, women’s and sledge teams. But the cancer returned again, and by October, Matt had to leave Ontario, where he was training, to move back home to Edmonton. Matt continued to be part of the team, and his jersey hung in his stall at every practice and game throughout the season.
Matt has left an incredible legacy with the National Sledge Team and with Hockey Canada. He made the team and became a top player simply because he was determined to do so and committed himself to the task. His positive attitude and unparalleled work ethic represented the values that Hockey Canada works to instill in players from coast to coast. He will be dearly missed by his teammates, players and staff, who express their sincere condolences to the Cook family – his father Don, mother Lynn, brother Brady and sister Marina.
A celebration of Matt’s life will be held in Edmonton on April 10. Donations can be made to the Matt Cook Foundation, in support of the fight against rare cancers, at 11835-102 Avenue; Edmonton, AB; T5K 0R6.