Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Meet the spirit behind Lightning coach Jon Cooper's annual fishing event

FORT LAUDERDALE - As Jon Cooper flips through his iPhone photos, each elicits an emotional response.

Cooper smiles at the one from a fishing trip June 12. The Lightning coach had surprised Tony Colton, 17, by sending a limo to pick him up from Sarasota and take him for a day on the water in St. Pete. Cooper brought his 7-year-old son Johnny. Former Lightning center Brian Boyle also joined. There's an image of a smiling Colton and a huge snook he snagged.

"Tony caught all the big fish," Cooper said.

It was the last time Cooper went fishing with Colton, who died July 30 after a courageous, seven-year battle with cancer.

Colton was the inspiration for Cooper's "Coop's Catch for the Kids," a charity fishing event in Tampa that raised $60,000 for pediatric cancer last October. Colton spoke at the event, which is co-sponsored by Dick Vitale's "V Foundation," then took turns fishing on Cooper and center Tyler Johnson's boat.

Colton won't be there for Tuesday, Oct. 3 for this year's event but his spirit remains, having touched a lot of people in Tampa Bay, especially the Lightning.

"It's going to be a different fishing experience, that's for sure," Johnson said. "And I'm sure (Colton) will still be a presence."

***

Cooper met Colton in June 2015 at the Sneaker Soiree in Tampa, a community event to honor excellence in sports at all levels.

Cooper's Lightning was coming off a run to the Stanley Cup Final. But he was struck by the poise and presence of Colton, a teenager battling a cancer called undifferentiated sarcoma.

"I was really drawn to him," Cooper said. "Just his personality and how he spoke."

They exchanged numbers, forging a friendship that brought him closer to his favorite team, the Lightning. When treatments allowed, Colton attended games, a regular visitor in the dressing room.

Colton even suited up and joined Johnson and Boyle on the ice after one practice. "Right from the get-go, I knew this kid was something special," Johnson said. "He was never a guy who wanted to say, 'Why me?' He never wanted your sympathy, just wanted to talk to you, be your friend. He even talked about kids that were battling from different things, how upset he was and how he was trying to help them, even though he was probably going through something worse. He was just selfless. There's not enough people in the world like Tony."

Colton raised money for pediatric cancer, including $50,000 he was awarded as the Lightning's Community Hero. But Cooper wanted to do more. Months before meeting Colton, Cooper's father-in-law, Steve Novak, died from esophageal cancer.

"This is my way of helping. I can't get in a lab and look at enzymes and genes," Cooper said, "but if I can raise money to make that happen, it's the least I can do."

Cooper reached out to Vitale, whose annual galas have raised $21 million for pediatric cancer research (you can donate here . Vitale quickly agreed to be the keynote speaker and offer the V Foundation's support. Colton had been a fixture at Vitale's galas, speaking at his last one in May.

"He was one of the most courageous young kids I've ever met in my life," Vitale said. "It just crushed me to see the pain he was going through. No child should suffer like that."

****

Cooper saw the suffering first-hand on his final two visits at All Children's Hospital.

The most recent came July 23, seven days before Colton passed away. Colton was bedridden, but didn't want a picture with him lying down. He pulled himself up. Cooper FaceTimed Johnson and wing Ryan Callahan so they could say hello, not knowing it was also goodbye.

"To be honest, I didn't know it was quite how bad it was," Johnson said. "I could tell he was struggling a little bit. I was just praying and thought he was going to keep going."

Cooper knows Tuesday will be emotional, calling it a "day of fishing and giving." Like last year, there will be between 25-30 boats, with donors getting paired with a Lightning player or two. For Cooper, it's about raising money and giving kids a better quality of life, an experience like Colton reeling in snook on that surprise June outing.

"I don't know how long I'll be coaching hockey or how long I will have the ability to have a mic in front of me. But when I do, I want to put it to good use," Cooper said. "To be able to find any way to make the next Tony Colton's life better, that's our mission."

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] [email protected]_JSmith.

 
Comments
Lightning journal: Vinik pushing for outdoor game

Lightning journal: Vinik pushing for outdoor game

As he sat back in his chair facing the stands in the middle of the two benches, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik could not help but remember the first time he sat there.A young Steven Stamkos sat next to him as he spoke in front of a crowd of about 30 peop...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Lightning journal: Roster trimmed to 28

Lightning journal: Roster trimmed to 28

TAMPA – After Sunday morning, the Lightning sat five cuts away from having a 23-man roster to start the regular season.It cut its training camp roster by 27, leaving 28 players on the roster with the start of the regular season less than two we...
Published: 09/23/18
Lightning forward prospect Boris Katchouk putting together strong preseason

Lightning forward prospect Boris Katchouk putting together strong preseason

TAMPA — As the end of training camp looms, there's no clear-cut answer as to how the Lightning will fill the one, maybe two open forward spots in its lineup.It could go with Adam Erne. Spending much of his time in AHL Syracuse the past three se...
Published: 09/22/18
Lightning journal: ‘No-risk’ forward pickup; another preseason win; Fan Fest on Sunday

Lightning journal: ‘No-risk’ forward pickup; another preseason win; Fan Fest on Sunday

TAMPA — It didn't take long for Lightning GM Julien BriseBois to decide he wanted to put a waiver claim in Friday.Not when he saw that F Danick Martel was available."He's a player we have had on our radar for a while, going back to actually his...
Published: 09/22/18
Lightning journal: Adam Erne looks to stick in Tampa

Lightning journal: Adam Erne looks to stick in Tampa

Forward Adam Erne flicks the puck into the net, but he has no time to celebrate.He flips around. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Snow flies off his skates. Erne then squares his body as he arrives in the defensive zone, steps away from the net.Within a secon...
Published: 09/21/18
Lightning falls to Hurricanes again in preseason

Lightning falls to Hurricanes again in preseason

The Lightning did not fare much better in its second preseason crack at the Hurricanes.In fact, it did worse.It lost 6-1 Wednesday in Raleigh, N.C.Carolina put a much more veteran team on the ice than it did Tuesday in winning Tampa Bay's preseason o...
Published: 09/19/18
Second-round pick Gabriel Fortier among Lightning’s early cuts

Second-round pick Gabriel Fortier among Lightning’s early cuts

One round of cuts down, several more to go.The Lightning cut seven players on Wednesday, five of whom were training camp invitees, the team announced. All seven players were assigned to juniors.Gabriel Fortier was the most notable cut. The Lightning'...
Published: 09/19/18
Lightning journal: Can Mathieu Joseph sneak his way onto the opening-day roster?

Lightning journal: Can Mathieu Joseph sneak his way onto the opening-day roster?

It remains to be seen if F Mathieu Joseph will make the Lightning's roster. If he doesn't, it certainly won't be because of a lack of opportunities.Joseph saw time on the Lightning power play and penalty kill on Tuesday at Amalie Arena when Tampa Bay...
Published: 09/19/18
Hockey News poll: Lightning favored to win Stanley Cup, other awards

Hockey News poll: Lightning favored to win Stanley Cup, other awards

Falling just short of winning a championship the past few seasons has done nothing to erode fans' confidence in the Lightning.Not just locally, but also nationally and across Canada.The Lightning is the runaway favorite to win the Stanley C...
Published: 09/19/18
Lightning journal: Alex Killorn’s just puttin’ on the Fitz

Lightning journal: Alex Killorn’s just puttin’ on the Fitz

TAMPA — How big is FitzMagic? It has hit the Lightning, too.Proving that Harvard guys stick together, Lightning forward Alex Killorn showed support for fellow Harvard grad Ryan Fitzpatrick by, sort of, dressing up the way Fitzpatrick did after ...
Published: 09/19/18