What do top hockey teams have in common? Chemistry and skill, for starters

Just ask the Lightning. Players reflect on some of the best teams they've ever played outside of Tampa Bay and compare them to this year's team.
Jon Cooper and the Norfolk Admirals celebrate winning the 2012 Calder Cup Trophy in Cooper's second season with the team. (Courtesy of John Wright)
Jon Cooper and the Norfolk Admirals celebrate winning the 2012 Calder Cup Trophy in Cooper's second season with the team. (Courtesy of John Wright)
Published January 7

TAMPA — In case you haven't heard, the team that calls Amalie Arena home is pretty darn good.

The Lightning didn't lose a game in regulation in December. It leads the rest of the NHL in the standings by 10 points entering Monday. No injury to a significant player has made this talented Lightning team stumble or stall.

Most of the players in the Lightning's dressing room will tell you this is the best team of which they have been a part.

This isn't the only extremely successful team many of these skaters have played for, though. Far from it. After practice Monday, the Times asked several players the best team they have played for is, not including this year's Lightning team, and how that team compared with the Lightning team sprinting toward the President's Trophy.

Forwards Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn didn't have to think long. Their answer: the 2012 Norfolk Admirals. Yes, the AHL team that Lightning coach Jon Cooper led to 28 consecutive wins during the regular season and an eventual Calder Cup Trophy.

Said Johnson: "We were firing on all cylinders. Everyone was working well together."

Said Killorn: "It had the feeling when we went on this run where we just felt like we couldn't lose, but we did it for two months."

Killorn added that they never felt as if they were out of any game, no matter the deficit.

RELATED: J.T. Miller returns to practice

Sound familiar? It should. Killorn said this Lightning team has the same mindset. The biggest difference comes in the versatility of players, if you ask Johnson.

"We had our roles and we knew exactly what we were going to do," Johnson said. "Everyone was just playing really good hockey and doing everything almost perfect. I think that way is a little different where you couldn't necessarily put people in different situations and do different things in Norfolk. At the same time, we knew exactly what we were going to do. Whereas here, really you can play in any spot and the team just keeps going."

The other difference that Johnson noted: Skill.

Forward Yanni Gourde also mentioned skill as the biggest difference between this year's Lightning team and his pick for other best team, the 2016-17 Syracuse Crunch.

"But grittier probably that year," Gourde said.

The Crunch lost in the finals to Grand Rapids.

That same year, rookie defenseman Erik Cernak was busy winning an OHL championship with the Erie Otters.

"We had a really good offense and skilled guys," Cernak said. "I think that is something similar."

That same formula helped Brayden Point and Team Canada during his first World Juniors tournament. It was an easy pick for Point. He couldn't recall that team trailing all tournament.

The biggest similarity to this Lightning team: An abundance of skill.

"I think both teams played a fast-paced, creative game," Point said. "I think that's what we do here."

Contact Nick Kelly at [email protected] Follow @_NickKelly.

Advertisement