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Cook's outdoor summer hockey rink in Bemidji a training asset

Brendan Cook, left, and Jesse Nemgar, right, shoot pucks on the synthetic hockey rink in Cook's backyard in Bemidji. Pioneer Photo Eric Stromgren

Brendan Cook was skating in his backyard hockey rink at his Bemidji home Thursday afternoon as sunlight shined through a canopy of trees, a summer breeze fluttered the leaves and a few stray mosquitoes buzzed about.

"This is something I've wanted to do for awhile," said Cook, a former Bemidji State hockey player and six-year professional. "It's not big enough to get out of first gear, but it's great to have my skates on and feel like I'm on the rink in the summer."

Backyard hockey rinks in the winter are normal around these parts but Cook might have the only outdoor summer rink in northern Minnesota. The synthetic surface of interlocked, dense plastic panels measures 750 square feet and is surrounded by homemade wooden boards.

"You can skate on it and it feels like ice," Cook said as he made a hockey stop - minus the flakes of snow. "It's great for my game being able to shoot out here with skates on. You can glide on it. You can stop and start on it. You can make tight turns and it's something you don't see very often."

Cook purchased his rink from Kwik Rink Synthetic Ice, a Maple Grove-based company which makes the panels for professional and residential use. The company sells the product throughout the world at a cost starting at $185 per each four-by-eight foot panel.

Cook installed the rink a few weeks ago by ripping up a corner of his back yard and laying down a concrete base. He then pieced together the dovetailed panels and locked them together with a hammer to make hockey possible in the summer.

His 17 month old son, Jaxon, has taken an interest in the rink and like his dad spends time shooting at the net.

"I think he will probably put on his skates for the first time next summer and learn how to skate on this," Cook said.

The rink is more than just a summertime perk. It is an offseason development tool and business investment.

Cook will play professionaly next season in Denmark for Sonderjyske and being able to take hundreds of shots per day to perfect his skills is a major asset of the outdoor synthetic rink.

The rink is also part of Get The Edge Hockey, Cook's offseason workout training program business he bases out of Bemidji.

Most of Get The Edge Hockey workouts are done at Bemidji State and Cook's program is targeted to improve hockey players. Get the Edge Hockey has been in business since 2007 and includes weight training, pylometrics, acceleration training, aerobic/anerobic training and core training.

The rink adds another teaching option for shooting mechanics, puck handling and other puck-based skills.

"Hockey training has evolved so much and it's always changing," Cook said. "You have to be altering yearly to stay current."

Cook, a native of Reston, Manitoba, started developing the program during his playing days at Bemidji State when he switched his major to exercise science. He said BSU assistant coach Bert Gilling was a 'huge mentor' during his time with the Beavers in helping him become a better hockey player.

"I was really fortunate to come to Bemidji," Cook said. "I came here as a 19-year-old freshman and I was talented but not strong enough. I was never able to generate enough time and space."

Cook went on to score 108 points in his BSU career. He scored 55 goals from 2001-05 and is one of only three Beavers to score more than 50 career goals in the Division I era (Luke Erickson, Matt Read).

He has since spent time playing as a professional in the ECHL, CHL and British Elite League. He played for Braehead in Scotland last season.

Cook developed different aspects to his program from a variety of sources. Some parts come from his experiences in professional camps and techniques he learned in Europe. He derived some parts from a camp he attended with NHL players Scott Hartnell and Ryan Malone.

"I work from the same book with all my clients but I tailor it to each individual player," Cook said. "I feel like I have absolutely the best program to get faster and stronger. It is my belief that I have the best program any hockey player could do."

Cook started Get The Edge Hockey in 2007 and has worked with many local players including BSU alumni Tyler Scofield, Matt Dalton, Blaine Jarvis and Ian Lowe. He has also worked with former Bemidji High School players Sarah Erickson and Jesse Nemgar.

Cook's pro training group this summer includes Nemgar, Scofield and Lowe.

Nemgar will attend St. Scholastica in Duluth next season and play hockey for the Saints. He was out shooting on Cook's rink Thursday.

"It feels pretty realistic," Nemgar said of the rink. "The program really gives me motivation to work out and it's great getting the chance to be around these pros. It's a lot better for me to train here than a place like the Twin Cities because if I go there I'm training with kids my own age and here I'm training with more skilled players."

Cook said he considers Bemidji his home and lives in town with his wife, Missy, during the offseason.

"We're very fortunate to be able to come back here and live in the summers when it is so beautiful," he said. "It's small town and friendly here. We're that kind of people. We love it here."