Thursday, June 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Passion takes Cooper from lawyer to Lightning coach

A case can be made that Thomas E. Brennan Jr. started Jon Cooper on the path to becoming the Lightning's ninth head coach.

It was Brennan, a district court judge in Mason, Mich., who in 1999 got his young lawyer friend his first coaching gig, at Lansing, Mich., Catholic Central High, where Brennan's son was the goalie.

"The year was magical," Brennan recalled last week. "He took a ragtag group of hockey players and made them believe they could win, and they did."

They won a regional championship, to be exact, which got Cooper named coach of the year by the Lansing State Journal.

Cooper fell so in love with coaching — "I love taking 23 people who are all in different directions doing things and making them into one" — he eventually closed his law practice to pursue it full time.

Fourteen years later, Cooper, 45, is Tampa Bay's bench boss, with a 1-0-0 record after his debut Friday against the Devils.

Cooper said he did not get into coaching to reach the NHL. But success kept pushing him forward, through Junior B hockey, to Midget AAA, to junior teams in Texarkana, Texas, and St. Louis and Green Bay, Wis., to the American Hockey League, where beginning in 2010 he coached Tampa Bay affiliates in Norfolk, Va., and Syracuse, N.Y.

Cooper won North American Hockey League championships in 2007 and '08 with St. Louis, a United States Hockey League title in 2010 with Green Bay, and in 2012 led Norfolk to the Calder Cup title and a 28-game winning streak, longest by a North American pro hockey team.

"I would have been 100 percent okay if I never coached in the NHL," Cooper said. "Coming (to the Lightning) now was, 'Okay, we've done it at every level, let's go see if we can do it here.' "

•••

The story of how Cooper got into coaching has the feel of a fantasy.

A graduate of Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Auburn Hills, Mich., Cooper was working in Brennan's court for $1,000 a month as a public defender. Cooper and Brennan were teammates on a hockey team called the Legal Eagles.

Brennan, now retired, said Cooper's nickname was "Fancy Pants" because "he was fancy with the puck and loved to score."

One day Brennan asked Cooper to coach his son's high school team. Cooper, who played growing up in Prince George, British Columbia, but was a lacrosse star at New York's Hofstra University, said why not.

"None of the guys were going to play pro hockey, but they loved the game," Cooper said, "and they had a coach who loved the game as well. We just kind of molded this thing together."

Catholic Central won its first regional title in 25 years. But for pure schmaltz, nothing beats its road trip to Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

The historic home of the Maple Leafs was losing its tenant to the new Air Canada Centre, and Cooper and his assistant, Pat Murray, a former NHL player, bussed the Catholic Central kids to scrimmage at the Garden.

Sitting in the stands, Cooper said he had his epiphany.

"I just remember the feeling I had," he said. "I said, 'I'm never going to be able to play here, but to be able to coach here, what a feeling that would be.' It's just the feeling that got me going."

•••

Cooper's wife, Jessie, calls her husband "a romantic."

Cooper proposed at sunset on a dock owned by Jessie's family on Lake Mitchell in Cadillac, Mich., with a bottle of champagne and what Jessie described as "really inspired words."

Jessie, who met Cooper on a blind date, said it is exactly the kind of proposal she wanted.

"He truly watches and knows and understands people," she said. "He pays attention. He's one of the few people I know in life who really does."

That is instructive because it is one way Cooper builds such strong bonds with his players.

"Jon Cooper is a people person," said Ken Young, owner of AHL Norfolk and a Tampa resident, "and by that, I mean he gets to know his players, gets to know what really makes them tick, what their interests are, and he tries to mold the team around those interests. He understands the individual, and then he's able to bring the chemistry together to make the team."

He is extremely disciplined. Jessie said his closet "looks like a military closet."

He once scored six goals in a game for Hofstra's lacrosse team, and he studied law with the intent of becoming an agent. He is so competitive, said Brendan Bruss, president of the junior Green Bay team Cooper coached, his motto was "Play anyone, any place, any time."

"He had charisma. (He is) a good-looking guy, bright," said John Danowski, Cooper's lacrosse coach at Hofstra and now the coach at Duke. "You just knew whatever he decided to do, he was going to be successful."

It just took Cooper some time to decide what to do. About being a lawyer, Cooper recalled thinking, " 'Is this what I'm going to be doing 35 years from now?' I liked what I was doing, but I didn't love what I was doing."

Now, he said, "I love what I'm doing."

"He would have made a damn good lawyer," judge Brennan said. "He would have made a lot of money. He would have been a guy who won a lot of arguments."

Instead, he's won lots of games.

     
 
Comments
Lightning’s Victor Hedman wins NHL’s Norris Trophy

Lightning’s Victor Hedman wins NHL’s Norris Trophy

Victor Hedman, a relentless part of the Lightning's push to the Eastern Conference final last season, was honored Wednesday night with the Norris Trophy, given to the NHL's top defenseman."To the Lightning organization, Mr. Jeff Vinik, Steve Yzerman ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Lightning announce home opener: Oct. 6 vs. Panthers

Lightning announce home opener: Oct. 6 vs. Panthers

The Tampa Bay Lightning will announce their full 2018-19 schedule on Thursday, but the league announced each home opener Wednesday, with Tampa Bay playing host to the Florida Panthers at Amalie Arena on Saturday, Oct. 6.The Lightning will know their ...
Published: 06/20/18
Norris Trophy could be good consolation for Lightning’s Victor Hedman

Norris Trophy could be good consolation for Lightning’s Victor Hedman

Victor Hedman is talking from a hotel room in Las Vegas and admits he's a little jet-lagged."Actually, very jet-lagged," Hedman says.That's what happens when you take a flight from Sweden to the party capital of the world.But he knows exactly what he...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Mike Hoffman traded twice in wake of harassment, cyberbullying claims

Mike Hoffman traded twice in wake of harassment, cyberbullying claims

The Ottawa Senators traded winger Mike Hoffman on Tuesday, hoping to solve an ugly off-ice issue involving star defenseman Erik Karlsson and his wife. The Senators sent Hoffman to the San Jose Sharks, who then dealt him to the Florida Panthers. All t...
Published: 06/19/18
Salary-cap increase makes for ‘more fun’ NHL offseason

Salary-cap increase makes for ‘more fun’ NHL offseason

Thanks, Vegas. That’s what NHL general managers are saying this offseason after the Stanley Cup Final run of the expansion Golden Knights contributed to what’s expected to be a healthy increase for the salary cap. With elite center John Tavares, No. ...
Published: 06/19/18
Barry Trotz resigns as coach of Stanley Cup-winning Capitals

Barry Trotz resigns as coach of Stanley Cup-winning Capitals

Barry Trotz abruptly stepped down as coach of the Washington Capitals on Monday after failing to agree to terms on a new contract, a stunning move that left the newly minted Stanley Cup champions without a coach with the draft later this week and wit...
Published: 06/18/18
Lightning re-signs goaltender Eddie Pasquale to two-way deal

Lightning re-signs goaltender Eddie Pasquale to two-way deal

The Lightning re-signed goaltender Eddie Pasquale to a one-year, two-way contract general manager Steve Yzerman announced today.Pasquale, 27, split this past season between the Syracuse Crunch and Bakersfield Condors of the American Hockey League. He...
Published: 06/18/18
Lightning opens seven-game preseason schedule at home Sept. 18

Lightning opens seven-game preseason schedule at home Sept. 18

TAMPA — The Lightning will open its seven-game preseason schedule at home with a 7:30 p.m.  game Sept. 18 against the Carolina Hurricane, the team announced Thursday.That is one of three home games the Lightning will play in a preseason sc...
Published: 06/14/18
Lightning trades Peter Budaj to Kings, acquires forward Andy Andreoff

Lightning trades Peter Budaj to Kings, acquires forward Andy Andreoff

Sixteen months after acquiring Peter Budaj from the Kings, the Lightning today returned the veteran goaltender to Los Angeles.The Lightning traded Budaj for forward Andy Andreoff, general manager Steve Yzerman announced in a news release.Andreoff, 27...
Published: 06/13/18
Lightning set as early favorite to win the Stanley Cup in 2018-19

Lightning set as early favorite to win the Stanley Cup in 2018-19

This past season didn't end the way Lightning fans might have hoped, but that's no reason to lose hope.In fact, oddsmakers are more bullish on Tampa Bay than any team in the NHL for next season.According to at least one sports betting site, the ...
Published: 06/08/18