San Jose Sharks goalie from above
HOMETOWN HERO - Devin Cooley, a 26-year-old Los Gatos native, started six games in the final six weeks of the NHL regular-season after the San Jose Sharks acquired him in a trade on March 8. (Jonathan Natividad / Los Gatan)

For San Jose Sharks’ newest netminder, Los Gatos’ own Devin Cooley, dipping into the philosophical well of existential nihilism is how he’s able to stare-down—and halt—rubber pucks being launched at him like missiles.

“As a goalie, the game is so mental, so everyone has to figure out what works for them and keeps them in the present moment,” he told the Los Gatan in a telephone interview. “A little bit of nihilism goes a long way.”

Now playing on hockey’s biggest stage, telling himself Nothing matters or We’re all going to die, has allowed him to stay grounded as the blades of some of the most-talented and highest-paid athletes create and react to plays in front of his eyes.

“I want my emotions to stay exactly the same,” he said. “I don’t want to get too high or too low.”

Of course, the off-ice Cooley knows life is a valuable thing and there are things worth getting frustrated over.

“But in the moment, if I start thinking about all those things, it’s just going to be a distraction,” he said. “I’m not going to be on top of my game.”

Cooley needed his mindset trick after spending the final six weeks of the regular-season in goal for a Sharks team that ended-up dead last in the NHL in points (47) and wins (19), and worst in goal differential (-150).

goalie in net
PIONEER – Cooley is the first player from the Junior Sharks club to start for the Sharks. (Jonathan Natividad / Los Gatan)

Highs and Lows

Cooley finished 2-3-1 with a 4.98 goals against average and a .870 save percentage.

While those numbers are certainly nothing to scream about, it was the team’s porous defense—and not the goaltending—that was most responsible for the league-worst 331 goals the Sharks allowed this season.

Although Cooley got pulled in his final two starts against Edmonton and Calgary, it didn’t take the luster off his professional breakthrough. Cooley made history as the first Junior Sharks alum to start for the big club. 

“I’m living the dream,” the 26-year-old Los Gatos native said. “It’s been pretty amazing. I’ve definitely had a ton of setbacks in my career—probably more than most—so I’m making sure to enjoy the time now. Every day you spend in the NHL is a blessing.”

Cooley began the season with the Rochester Americans, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Buffalo Sabers. Leading up to the March 8 trade deadline, Cooley knew there was a possibility he’d be sent elsewhere. 

“Obviously, it wasn’t an ideal situation for me there,” Cooley said, referring to the possibility of actually playing during games. “I was kind of hoping to maybe get a new opportunity somewhere else, but wasn’t sure if it was going to happen.”

He had no idea that San Jose was in the mix.

“Basically, I went through the whole deadline glued to my phone,” he said, recalling the arrival of the 3pm transaction cut-off. “Three o’clock hit, 3:10, 3:30. I told my girlfriend, ‘Hey, it looks like we’re sticking around.’ Then I got a call from Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams telling me they just traded me to San Jose.”

Cooley says during the game, you don’t have time to ‘think as a goalie’

“‘Holy, what?’” he thought. “I couldn’t believe it. I was shocked, because it happened so late after the deadline.”

Right away he called his parents.

“My mom started crying,” he said. “My dad was stoked.”

On March 17, nine days after being traded, Cooley made his NHL debut in Chicago.

His second game was at home against the Blackhawks, March 23.

Not surprisingly, Cooley struggled in both starts but rebounded with superb back-to-back efforts, saving 34 of 36 shots by the St. Louis Blues April 6 to pick up his first win. 

Five days later, Cooley was even better, stopping 49 of 50 shots in a 3-1 win over the Seattle Kraken. Cooley’s 49 saves represented the sixth most saves in a game in franchise history. Cooley credits his improved play to that existential nihilistic mindset, as well as tweaks he made following conversations with team goalie coach Thomas Speer and starting goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood. 

After experiencing such major emotional highs and lows in his first two starts, Cooley knew he needed to get back to his let go, nothing matters mentality. 

“This is something I really started to experiment with more recently to tell myself certain phrases during games, and I really like it so far,” he said. “During a game, you don’t have time to ‘think as a goalie.’ If I start thinking about things, it’s just going to be a distraction…Some goalies are different. If they make a great save, they like to go nuts and pump up the crowd. They like to feel superhuman. And when things aren’t going well, some guys are breaking sticks.”

These sorts of emotional reactions don’t really help, he finds.

“Nothing positive came out of it,” he said. “In most cases I ended up playing worse.”

Plus, Cooley says he likes learning about the mind, how it works and how to control it.

“I really enjoy learning about philosophy, the meaning of life and all that kind of stuff,” he said.

in goal
NETMINDING – Cooley’s career was at a crossroads. Then he racked-up two NHL wins. (Jonathan Natividad / Los Gatan)

Road Trip

Cooley was traded to the Sharks just before they embarked on one of their longest road trips of the season, a five-game slate on the East Coast. Once the team returned home for an extended period of practices and games, Cooley had moments when things felt surreal.

He was reminded of when he used to play for the Junior Sharks.

“I was making the same exact drive from my dad’s house in Los Gatos to the arena,” he said.

Cooley’s introduction to hockey was anything but ordinary.

His older brother was in Boy Scouts and their mom, Hernia, was a Scout leader for a field trip to an ice rink. 

“I was four or five at the time, and my mom put me on skates,” he said. “It was natural for me. I was thinking to myself, ‘This is super easy and I didn’t understand why other kids couldn’t stand or were hitting the wall.’ They had no idea if there was a hockey program in the area and had never even heard of hockey in the area. But they looked into it and enrolled me in a program sponsored through the San Jose Sharks.” 

An unrestricted free agent, Cooley proved in his six starts he can be a legitimate NHL goaltender.

Whether Cooley re-signs with the Sharks or another team, one thing is certain: he’s as motivated as ever to improve on his craft.

“What keeps me going is, I just love the process and the grind,” he said. “I love the work and love going to the rink every single day. I just love everything about the sport.”

For someone so intrigued by nihilism, he sure seems to find a lot of meaning in the sport.

“I’m just obsessed with it,” he said. “Even when things aren’t going well and you don’t know what the future holds, I’m still going to give everything I possibly can. And, at the end of the day if things don’t work out, I did the best I possibly could. I wasn’t just going to quit. I want to really be all-in 100% and apply myself every single day—and have fun, even when things aren’t going well.”

After all, he notes, that’s when it’s the hardest to be dedicated and keep-up that crazy work ethic.

“It’s really easy to work hard when things are going well,” he said. “It’s really hard when you’re doing everything right and putting in all the work and you’re getting lit up in games. But I found when you keep with it and keep grinding, eventually something will work out. Worst case scenario, if it doesn’t work out, at least I can be proud of the work and effort I put in.”

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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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