APA year ago Monday, Jon Cooper was waking up the day after his Norfolk Admirals won their 20th consecutive game – a streak that would eventually end at 29 games and see the team win the first AHL Calder Cup in its history.
Now Cooper wakes up as the new head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, hoping to instill into his new charges the winning spirit he's brought to his two previous stops.
He shouldn’t have a tough time attempting to plead his case to his Lightning players, seeing as how Cooper has a background as a defense attorney, a job he held as recently as 2003. The approach to that kind of job is the same as a hockey coach: Just win, baby.
And win Cooper has. During his two years with the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers, Cooper post a 84-27-9 record and won the Clark Cup in 2010. Graduating to the AHL, in a two-and-a-half seasons his record was 133-62-26, with the 29-game winning streak and another championship.
He's also a talented actor:
You can see why Lightning GM Steve Yzerman didn't want to risk bringing in a different head coach and risk losing Cooper to another NHL team over the summer.
Then there's the familiarity factor. Ten current Lightning players studied under Cooper's tutelage in the AHL. You might remember this idea working out in Pittsburgh and Washington when Dan Bylsma and Bruce Boudreau, respectively, were brought in from their team's minor league affiliates and found instant success.
Cooper's winning way put him on the radar last summer of the Washington Capitals, whose GM, George McPhee, only knows about hiring first-time NHL coaches. For the Crunch's and now Lightning's benefit, McPhee decided to go with Adam Oates instead. But it was only a matter of time before "The Show" would come calling again and Cooper would get it shot.
You might have thought Yzerman would have shied away from going with another rookie coach plucked from the AHL, but the winning says everything, and if Cooper can take that familiarity and parlay it into success at the NHL level, then he'll be making his GM look like a genius -- something Yzerman needs right now because the heat is slowly making its way towards his office.
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Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy
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