Friday, February 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning set to open camp with Cooper still at World Cup of Hockey

TORONTO — Coach Jon Cooper might miss more of Lightning training camp than initially expected.

At least, Cooper hopes so.

Cooper is an assistant coach for North America at the World Cup of Hockey. And the super skilled team of 23-and-under stars from the U.S. and Canada could still stunningly advance to this weekend's semifinals if Russia loses to Finland today.

North America outlasted Sweden 4-3 on Wednesday in a wildly entertaining overtime game; Sweden still advances to the semifinals. Cooper said his team, led by Oilers superstar Connor McDavid, is as fun to coach as it is to watch.

"We've got a lot of McDavids," Cooper said. "All these guys are star players. He just might be the brightest."

It's also been a beneficial learning experience for Cooper, an assistant for the first time. Cooper joked the best part is he doesn't have to address the media post practice and game, leaving the "finger-pointing" to head coach Todd McLellan (Oilers).

Cooper enjoyed giving more individual attention/instruction to players post-practice, and gleaned knowledge from the other NHL head coaches on the staff, including the Panthers' Gerard Gallant and the Sharks' Peter DeBoer.

"All the coaches have been open and free with information," Cooper said. "Everyone is together, pulling their tricks out of the bag."

EYE-OPENER: Lightning RW Nikita Kucherov said he idolized former Red Wings C Pavel Datsyuk and Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin. And during this World Cup, Kucherov got to play on the same line with both for Russia. "A crazy experience," Kucherov said. "Just unbelievable to be on the team and around them, see how they prepare. Just looking up to those guys and take some little things from them and try to transfer to my game."

VASY HAPPY: G Andrei Vasilevskiy said the three-year, $10.5 million extension he signed July 1 gives him more confidence. "It was the best thing to happen to me in my hockey life," said Vasilevskiy, who has yet to play for Russia. "Tampa is the best place in the world and I hope to be there my whole career."

NUTS AND BOLTS: C Steven Stamkos had five shots in Canada's 4-1 win over Europe on Wednesday, clinching the top semifinal seed in the group. Jonathan Toews had two goals and an assist, and Sidney Crosby and Logan Couture also scored. Marian Hossa scored for Europe. … RW Jonathan Drouin (North America) was a plus-1 in 9:31, the second lowest ice time on the team. … G Ben Bishop could start — or at least, play — in tonight's game for USA against Czech Republic; the Americans are eliminated.

Contact Joe Smith at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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