Photo by USA Hockey's NTDP
Growing up in Philadelphia, it’s easy to understand how Tommy Cogan fell in love with the sport of hockey.
“The Flyers were super popular at that time,” Cogan said. “All the kids in my neighborhood played roller hockey and ice hockey. I started roller hockey when I was five and used to play all the time with my friends.”
Roller hockey turned into ice hockey for Cogan, who became good enough to consider colleges to play for. One of his high school coaches had connections at Niagara University in Western New York.
Cogan received an academic scholarship from Niagara. He ended up being cut from the NCAA team, so he eventually played on the club team for four years.
Cogan during one of his military tours overseas
While playing Division I hockey wasn’t in the cards for Cogan, his other passion came into play after his second year at Niagara.
“I thought about joining [the military] in high school but decided not to,” Cogan said. “I really liked the idea of discipline and commitment, so during my junior year of college year, I was thinking of law school but didn’t want to go to school much longer.”
Cogan joined the military after graduating from Niagara and never looked back. Now, after 21 years as a Marine, Cogan is transitioning back into his passion for hockey.
Even when he was serving, hockey still wove itself into Cogan’s life.
“I have been coaching youth hockey for about the last 10 years,” he said. “Three years ago, my two youngest, Tommy and Cael, started playing hockey. From there, I got more and more involved in it. Over the last two years, I decided I wanted to get more into that instead of military contract work. I could really help people and see a change. I figured I would get into youth and then see where it took me.”
Cogan participated in sports psychology and sports training while he was in special ops, which is how he first got connected to USA Hockey.
“One of our sports psychologists had worked for the Buffalo Sabres previously,” Cogan said. “One day, we started talking and he asked me what I wanted to do, and I told him coaching. He told me he was good buddies with Phil Housley. During a conversation, my name came up and Phil told me to give him a call.”
After one phone call with Housley, Cogan was then connected with Scott Monaghan, the assistant executive director of the NTDP. That same week, Cogan interviewed with Monaghan and got the job of player development coach with the NTDP.
Cogan took two separate trips to Plymouth last season to get aquatinted with the program. He’s now working full time with the U18s.
“It was such a great opportunity to jump from coaching youth hockey to a high level of hockey,” Cogan said. “I had a good background running organizations, but I needed more development in terms of hockey.”
His development continued this past summer, as Cogan attended training camp with the Carolina Hurricanes, where he got to learn from their head coach, Rod Brind’Amour.
Since arriving in Plymouth in August, Cogan has quickly adapted to working with more skilled players.
“It’s been awesome,” he said. “I’ve been fully integrated into everything. I go over video, plan practice and run drills. The skill level across the board is significantly higher.”
A lot of his job is focusing on how to help players improve when they’re off the ice. This includes teaching breathing habits to manage the intensity of a game and encouraging good sleeping habits to manage stress after a game.
Every day is a learning experience for Cogan, as the kids he’s coaching now are the most skilled he’s ever worked with.
“At a certain point, the kid’s skill level is higher than the coach’s skill level,” he said. “You need to ask them what they need help with sometimes. When it comes to individual skill, some of the kids can do things that others can barely do. It really adds value, but you have to help them use it with their game. You need to challenge them. They want to learn and get better so it’s finding a way to help them all the time.”
His years of military service also helps gives players perspective for what it means to put on a Team USA sweater.
Photo by USA Hockey's NTDP