The Lightning coaching staff has a secret language?

Sports Illustrated spent three days shadowing head coach Jon Cooper and his assistants.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper watches from the bench during a game in October in Tampa. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper watches from the bench during a game in October in Tampa. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Published February 7
Updated February 7


Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt got an inside look at the Lightning coaches, spending three days with them in January as they prepared for games against the Maple Leafs and Sharks. The resulting piece was posted on Wednesday and will be in the Feb. 11 issue of the magazine.

Prewitt attended prescout meetings and strategy sessions in the “bullpen,” the windowless workspace the staff shares at Amalie Arena.

His piece details the work that goes into a game day, the dynamic among the Lightning’s staff — head coach Jon Cooper, assistants Todd Richards, Jeff Halpern and Derek Lalonde, video coach Nigel Kirwan, video coordinator Brian Garlock and goalie coach Frantz Jean — and some of the amusing moments that arise when any group spends that much time together.

Those things include the staff’s secret language (an executive workout means time in the sauna, "heading to rotary” is hitting the bar after work). When coach Cooper received a pair of golf shoes that fit Lalonde, he offered them to Lalonde … if the assistant coach’s penalty kill was successful that night.

They play tennis on road trips, race laps in hotel pools and have a chess ladder.

Halpern, the youngest assistant on the staff at 42, reads books about coaching, and about improving yourself. He also keeps a note card in his desk with a quote from Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh: “Your enthusiasm becomes their enthusiasm; your lukewarm presentation becomes their lukewarm presentation.”

The tight, casual atmosphere likely is due to the team’s place atop the NHL standings, as well as the personalities in the room, Prewitt surmises.

“Chemistry and synergy are paramount,” Cooper explains. “If you’re trying to build a culture with the players, you’d be a little hypocritical if you didn’t have the same thing in the staff.”

The staff is straightforward and consistent in communicating its expectations to its players and finds ways to keep its message fresh.

“The ability to create as little confusion as possible has been the best thing about this coaching staff since I got here,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh says. “But I also think they do a good job of giving the message to us every day in a different way, in different voices, so it doesn’t feel stale. That’s the sign of a coaching staff that trusts one another.”