Before the Lightning on Monday hired Jon Cooper as its new coach, one of his former players had some advice for Tampa Bay.
"They'd be pretty crazy not to take him," goaltender Dustin Tokarski said. "He's one of the best coaches I ever played for. The way he gets guys to work for him is something else."
The Lightning is banking on it as it gave Cooper, 45, a multiyear contract to be the franchise's ninth head coach. He replaces Guy Boucher, who was fired Saturday night.
"He's the guy I wanted," general manager Steve Yzerman said. "There were other options out there, and good options, but I didn't consider that. I felt he is the right guy."
In a statement released by the team, Cooper said, "There is no other team that I would rather be coaching than the Tampa Bay Lightning."
Cooper's first game will be Friday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum against the Devils. Dan Lacroix, Marty Raymond and Steve Thomas will run the bench tonight at the Times Forum against the Sabres.
Cooper, who will be introduced at a news conference today, spent three seasons coaching the Lightning's American Hockey League affiliate — from 2010-12 in Norfolk, Va., and this season in Syracuse, N.Y.
At Norfolk last season, he led the Admirals to the Calder Cup championship, and the club set a North American record for professional hockey teams with a 28-game winning streak.
This season, Syracuse leads the AHL, though seven players have been called up to the Lightning.
"You went to the rink every day and you wanted to work hard for him," said Tokarski, who played for Cooper at Norfolk and Syracuse until he was traded in February. "You wanted to put your blood, sweat and tears out there for him."
Yet there was speculation Yzerman, after hiring Boucher out of the American League, would opt this time to hire a coach with NHL experience. Many expected former Sabres coach Lindy Ruff to be on top of the list.
But Yzerman said he was focused on Cooper, who has worked during training camps, prospect camps and during the 2010-11 playoffs with the Lightning. There also are 10 Tampa Bay players who played for Cooper last season in Norfolk.
"So, for the most part he knows what to expect," Yzerman said. "He knows the players on our team and, obviously, he knows the players who have played for him in the minors. His familiarity will make it be less of a transition for him."
Cooper is an eclectic character.
With a business administration degree from Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., he worked on Wall Street for several years and was a defense attorney in Michigan.
As a coach he won championships in 2007 and '08 with St. Louis of the North American Hockey League. He also won in 2009 with Green Bay of the United States Hockey league before Yzerman hired him to coach at Norfolk.
With Tampa Bay, Cooper will keep Lacroix and Thomas as assistants, Yzerman said, and next season a third assistant likely will be added. Assistant coach Raymond will be moved to Syracuse to help new Crunch coach Rob Zettler.
"He's going to be a great coach," Tokarski said of Cooper. "He's got your back and he's going to make a lot of Stanley Cup appearances."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]