With its extreme northern location and vast wilderness, Alaska has been said to be a mix of Canada and the United States.
No wonder 17-year-old Brown Bears forward Cam Cook likes it so much here.
Cam, the son of Joyann and Christopher Cook, was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and lived there for about 12 years before his family moved to Rochester, New York.
Cook, who is 6-foot-0, 190 pounds, played 19 games for the Bears last year, amassing a goal and finishing minus-20.
This season, he is leading the Bears in scoring with three goals and seven assists in 11 games. His minus-3 is tied for the team lead.
“I love where I live,” said Cook, the billet son of Art and Lori Karvonen. “I love playing in front of the Brown Bears fans and like being a part of the community.”
As might be expected from someone who grew up in Canada, Cook has deep roots in hockey.
“I started skating when I was 2,” he said. “They eat, sleep and breathe hockey in Nova Scotia.”
When he heard the family was relocating to Rochester, he was shocked at first, wondering what that would mean for his hockey career.
But he found a home in the Buffalo Jr. Sabres program, just an hour from Rochester, and used that as a platform to make the jump to the Junior A Central Canada Hockey League last season.
The Bears had tried to recruit Cook before he went to the CCHL, so when Cook became unhappy with the hockey situation there, Kenai River was quick to pounce.
“I just think he embraced the community and he embraced the opportunity,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “That’s all we can ever give any player is an opportunity.
“It’s all in their mindset and approach as to how they take advantage of it, and he lives and breathes it. That’s part of the Canadian influence.”
That doesn’t mean the Alaska transition was seamless when Cook arrived in January.
“Nobody told me about the daylight change,” Cook said. “At 10:30 in the morning, I went outside and it was pitch black.”
On the ice, Cook scored in his second game for the Brown Bears, then didn’t dent the scoresheet the rest of the season.
However, the experience was invaluable because he learned what it took to compete in the North American Hockey League.
He spent his third summer training at Next Level Strength and Conditioning in Rochester, working out from 8 to 10 a.m., then skating from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
He then would play a two-hour game at night with the junior, college and pro players who call Rochester home.
Beauparlant said Cook also benefited from the advice of Cook’s brother Colin, who played at Royal Military College of Canada.
“Our biggest concern with Cam was his footspeed and whether he was going to improve it, and obviously he has,” Beauparlant said. “He works hard, shoots like a pro and he’s not afraid to get in the tough areas.
“As a Canadian kid, he has a Canadian style game.”
Cook had just one point in his first five games this season, but has nine points in his last six games.
“I’m out of my slump,” Cook said. “I’m not playing and worrying about what the coaches think. I’m just playing hard and playing happy.”
Beauparlant said Cook needs to make quicker decisions, develop more variety in the placement of his shots and keep getting gritty goals around the net.
Cook isn’t as concerned about individual improvement as he is about team improvement.
“I just want to do whatever it takes to help the team win,” he said. “The more team success you have, the more all the players will have individual success.”
Though only 17, Beauparlant said Cook is already a great fit for the Bears.
“He epitomizes this community in that he’s a hard-working kid who doesn’t take anything for granted,” Beauparlant said. “He loves being a Brown Bear and he’s all about what our community is about — he really has a blue collar mentality.”