Player Insight: Cook Has Been Training With The Best To Try And Become One Of The Best

A man’s resume can tell you a lot about who he is. More importantly, it can often tell what he might be able to accomplish in the future.

Before becoming an emerging NLL star on the Calgary Roughnecks, Tanner Cook was an elite lacrosse player at the University of North Carolina (UNC), the Hill Academy, and the Whitby Jr. Warriors. Each of those programs has a long, successful history. OK, the Hill Academy is only 17 years old, but there aren’t too many independent programs that have helped grow the game as much as they have. 

This isn’t to say that just because you’ve been a part of a prestigious organization automatically means you’ll become a superstar. It doesn’t. When attending schools like UNC or being brought up within a highly competitive youth system like the Warriors, you must be dedicated to honing your craft and working as hard (and as tirelessly) as possible to get where you want to go. 

Cook has taken advantage of being around wise and experienced coaches throughout his playing career, such as [UNC Head Coach] Joe Breschi, Brodie Merrill, Derek Keenan, and Dan Ladouceur.

“Throughout my career, I’ve been pretty lucky with who I’ve had coaching me, whether it’s the coaches at the Hill Academy or UNC [University of North Carolina],” Cook said. “They’ve helped me progress to the player I am today – I pay a lot of respects to them. When you work countless hours, you will finally get rewarded somewhere down the road.”

But Cook wasn’t just getting grade-A instruction from the guys at the Hill Academy, UNC, or with the Whitby Warriors. When he was a teen, he gained additional pro-level advice from his cousin, Chad Tutton, who lived right down the block from Cook when they grew up in Courtice, Ontario.

Cook graduated from the Hill Academy in 2016, the same year Tutton entered the NLL as a rookie. Growing up, Cook would pick Tutton’s brain as he made his way up the box lacrosse ranks. 

For many years, Cook was inspired by Tutton and wanted to one day follow in his cousin’s footsteps by joining the NLL himself. Cook also followed in Tutton’s footsteps when deciding to go to UNC – Tutton is also a UNC graduate. Tutton became an NLL champion in 2017 with the Georgia Swarm and now plays for the Philadelphia Wings as a defenseman and transition player. To this day, when needed, Cook relies on Tutton for advice.

“He’s been a little bit of a mentor for me throughout my career,” Cook said. “He went to UNC as well, and kind of solidified my decision to go there. Obviously, if I have any questions, he’s done it all before me, so he’s a good resource for me to lean on when needed.”

Cook has developed leaps and bounds in just 2 years in the NLL. As a rookie during the 2021-22 NLL Season, Cook often featured off-ball trying to get his teammates their opportunities to put the ball in the back on the net. He still managed to put up some very respectable numbers for a rookie scoring 11 goals (on 68 shots on goal), dishing out 30 assists, and scooping up 38 loose balls over 18 games. Not only was Cook a rookie, but Curtis Dickson was still on the team at the time, so Dickson had the ball in his stick quite often. 

In his sophomore season this year (without Dickson), Cook has taken on a much more prominent role on the offense. Before the season began, Roughnecks Head Coach Curt Malawsky called Cook and told him he (and the team) would need more from him this year. Cook was honored that Malawsky had that much faith in him to embrace this big new role, and he wasn’t going to let his coach down.

“I’ve had to embody that role,” Cook said. Last year I played a bit of a different role – I was more of a pick-setter trying to get guys open. Now, I’ve got my own shots to take, and I’m transitioning into a more prominent role, and I’m making the most of it.”

Cook still did a lot of work off-ball, but this year he’s taken the initiative to score his own goals. The 24-year-old nearly tripled his goal-scoring total during the regular season – he tallied 32 goals this season and, yet, still managed to keep his assists at the same level. He also increased his loose ball recoveries from 38 to 50. 

So much of what motivates him to be successful, other than his desire to be an NLL champion just like his cousin, is that he wants to see his teammates lift the NLL Cup just as much as he wants to lift it himself. 

Heading into the win-or-go-home Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, Cook is going to leave everything on the line for his brothers so he can continue to play with them for another week or two.

“We love our time together, and we love hanging out with each other as a group, so we don’t want to see that day come,” Cook said. “We’re going to keep battling and keep fighting to keep that alive.”

So much of Cook’s box lacrosse story is yet to be written, but he has the power and the knowledge to make the next few chapters filled with joy and tremendous success. 

Today, his resume is impressive, but he knows there’s much more he can do to be seen as an even more outstanding player and, if possible, a more well-liked teammate.

By Adam Levi