“I’ve been around a long time now, I guess,” said Cookson, 60. “I’m getting a little older. That’s helpful.”
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Rob Cookson greatly values experience.
He also has a lot of it.
The newest Blackhawks assistant coach, speaking to the media Sunday for the first time since his hiring this past week, even used the word — “experience” — seven times in seven minutes.
The 60-year-old Canadian has joined a staff suddenly laden with it, too, with the Hawks having replaced 36-year-old Jeremy Colliton with 54-year-old Derek King as head coach and having only kept aboard Colliton’s oldest preexisting assistant, 60-year-old Marc Crawford.
“Experience is so critical in this league,” Cookson said. “It sometimes get undervalued, to a degree. But it’s really important in this league to have experienced people around you.”
Cookson, who most recently had been coaching in Switzerland, is still in the early stages of acclimating to his new role, duties and team.
He called his hiring process over the last week “very hectic, to put it politely.” He has been “cramming” to learn all the requisite Hawks knowledge, and he estimates it’ll take him at least another week to get up to speed with the players, systems and everything in between.
But Cookson already looks and sounds the part — beneath his perfectly combed blond hair, he talks fast and to the point.
And he has occupied similar shoes to these many times before. He started as a Team Canada video manager in 1991 and, over the past 30 years, has served separate assistant stints for both the Flames and Senators, among numerous other jobs.
“I’ve been around a long time now, I guess,” he said. “I’m getting a little older. That’s helpful. I can go back and I can give [King] information from coaches I’ve worked [with] in the past, not only Marc [Crawford] but Darryl Sutter and as far back as even Roger Nielsen.”
(Cookson worked under Nielsen for two seasons with the Flyers, from 1998 to 2000, and under Sutter for three with the Flames, from 2002 to 2006.)
With the Hawks, he’ll primarily focus on coaching the forwards — doing so alongside Chris Kunitz, whose job is more development-oriented — while Crawford focuses on the defensemen.
Cookson will also work alongside video coach Matt Meacham with the power-play units, handle opponent pre-scouting and assist King with “player accountability issues in terms of our systems.”
So far, though, Cookson admitted he’s only fully familiar with two of the forwards: Two who happen to be quite experienced in their own rights, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Having been in Europe since 2019, many of the Hawks’ younger up-and-comers never intersected with his NHL tenures until now.
“I’m going to...observe them and get to know them, and that helps,” he said. “Once you get to know people, it’s easier to coach them. That’s the way I approach everything.”
Age hasn’t mellowed his personality — instead, it has only made him “a little more intense,” he said. But his grandfatherly aura has appeared to initially mesh well with King’s relaxed, one-of-the-guys approach and Crawford’s loud, assertive style.
“I like to think that I’m there for the players — as all coaches are — and that’s important,” he said. “I’m intense, but I want to make sure that the players have the right degree of information and the right degree of feedback that’ll allow them to grow.
“Sometimes I’m pretty easy to work with. But sometimes I’m hard to please in terms of what I have as far as expectations from the players.”