When Mark Cooper signed his new contract with the Kansas City Mavericks, he immediately went to Google to find out something about Independence and the metro area.
“Google is great,” said Cooper, 25, who scored 42 points last season with the ECHL’s Rapid City Rush. “I found out about the pro teams there and about the barbecue. I think this is a great opportunity for me to be with a quality organization that has a real chance of making a run at the Kelly Cup.
“I’ve talked with Coach (John-Scott) Dickson a few times and I know how excited he is about the way the team is coming together and I can’t wait to get to Kansas City in a little over a month.”
Along with the signing of the free agent forward, the Mavericks also announced the signing of Minnesota State-Mankato forward Zach Stepan, 23.
"Mark and Zach are both talented forwards who are dangerous with the puck in the offensive zone and responsible on our end of the ice," Mavericks general manager Brent Thiessen said. "We're excited to welcome them to Kansas City and to see what they bring to the Mavericks."
Cooper, 25, joins Kansas City after spending his first full professional season with Rapid City in 2016-17. With the Rush, Cooper posted 42 points (16 goals, 26 assists), second-most on the team. He also skated with the Tucson Roadrunners of the American Hockey League for 10 games, claiming two assists.
“I’ve had some buddies play in (that) arena and they tell me about the great fan support,” Cooper said. “Personally, I’ve never played there, but I can’t wait to walk through those doors, out onto the ice of a sold-out game to find out personally how great the fans are in Kansas City.”
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound forward broke into professional hockey with two games with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves in 2015-16 after completing his collegiate career at Bowling Green State. Cooper served as an alternate captain with the Falcons for his senior season, a year in which he was named to the All-WCHA third team as well as earning his third Academic All-WCHA recognition.
“The Mavericks have great support around the community and great fans,” he added. “I'm excited for what's in store this season."
The Toronto native was Bowling Green's led his team in goals (16) and points (32) in his senior season.
“We’ve addressed many of our needs defensively, and with the addition of these two players, we feel like we are adding to the offense we already have on the team,” Dickson said. “Mark is a big-body player who can dominate down low.
“He goes to the net to score and is highly motivated to prove he can take the next step to the AHL. I’m very excited about adding Mark to our team."
Stepan, 23, joins the Mavericks after completing his collegiate career with Minnesota State-Mankato. A fourth round draft pick of the Nashville Predators in the 2012 NHL Draft, Stepan tallied 59 points (24 goals, 35 assists) in 137 collegiate games.
The Hastings, Mich., native was a four-year letterwinner with Mankato and was a two-time honoree on the WCHA All-Academic Team. The left-hand-shooting forward helped the Mavericks to two conference regular season titles and two conference tournament championships. For his NCAA career, Stepan finished with a plus-25 rating.
Prior to his collegiate career, the 6-foot, 175-pound forward skated for the USHL's Waterloo Black Hawks in 2012-13, when he posted 78 points (32 goals, 46 assists), the league's third-best total, in 56 games. He was a plus-25 in his lone season in the USHL. Stepan claims international experience as well, playing for Team USA on multiple occasions, winning tournaments on both the U17 and U19 teams.
He is the cousin of Arizona Coyotes center and former New York Rangers alternate captain Derek Stepan.
"Kansas City's offensive style of play intrigued me right off the bat, and the more I talked to them the more the fit just felt right," Stepan said. "I think the biggest thing I'm excited for is going to a new city and starting the next chapter of my hockey career, and to me it sounds like Kansas City is a great place to do it."
Dickson said he heard great things about Stepan from his college coaches and those who had seen him dominate on that level.
"Very excited to add Zach to our team," Dickson said. "He comes from a college program that emphasizes work ethic and playing a two-way game. Zach has offensive abilities to contribute while remaining strong in the defensive end. He’s hungry to prove himself, and you’re always excited to get a player like that. We’re all looking forward to seeing him in October."