Advertisement

Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at tampabay.com/coronavirus. Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Blogs
  2. /
  3. Lightning Strikes

Lightning coach Jon Cooper: My All-Star path

Lightning coach will lead the Atlantic Division team in Sunday's All-Star game in Tampa.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper's All-Star Game path is a unique one. He made the jump from his life as a lawyer in Michigan into a journeyman coaching career, that has him behind the bench for the Atlantic Division for Sunday's game. He's won championships at nearly every stop, including winning a record 28 straight games with American Hockey League's Norfolk in 2011-12. But one title is still missing, the Stanley Cup, with Cooper's Lightning falling short in the 2015 final.

Each of the Lightning All-Stars was asked to discuss his biggest influence, the best and worst moments of his career. Here's Jon Cooper's, in his own words:

When I first got into coaching, I wasn't making any money other than gas money or whatever. But, in the end, you're working 60-70 hours as a lawyer and coaching 10-15 hours a week. And then, three years later, those hours are flipped, coaching 60 hours and working 20. That's when I knew coaching was a passion for me.

I just had to find a way to make a living doing it. And Mike Brooks and Kelly Chase gave me the break. When they bought a team in the North American Hockey League in Texarkana, Texas, and asked me to coach it, that was my fork in the road. Do I continue to practice law, or do I coach full-time?

They gave me the first opportunity to be a head coach. Not only head coach, but general manager. You run the team, sell the tickets, do the whole thing. And that break/experience was one of the most influential things that ever happened to me.

RELATED: The untold story of Wayne Gretzky's last All-Star Game

• • •

I've been unbelievably fortunate. I've won national championships in all three tiers of junior hockey in the U.S. I've won a Calder Cup in the American Hockey League. Is the Calder Cup in the American League the best trophy we won? Only because it was the highest level. But it doesn't make them better than any other one. All those teams hold a special place in my life.

I can't put one above the other. But I can put the 28-game win streak. To me, the streak became stamped when we won the Calder Cup. It's one of those things I'll never forget. Nobody has ever done that. Ever.

You know what the irony of that whole thing was? The previous record was by the Peoria Rivermen in the IHL. They were in Peoria for an event celebrating the team the night we broke the record. It was an anniversary, they were giving speeches. I knew them because I worked with some of them in St. Louis.

They were in the ceremony saying, 'There's a good chance our buddy Jon Cooper is going to break our streak tonight.' Can you believe that? It was like a movie.

RELATED: NHL All-Star Game schedule of events

• • •

My toughest moment was losing in the Stanley Cup Final. It was the first time in my career a team I coached had ever lost in a final.

The worst part was the wait. You know, the respect wait where you sit on the bench for two to three minutes and watch them celebrate before the handshakes. That's the worst feeling ever. It's empty. It's loss. And however much time it took, it felt like a thousand-fold.

I didn't watch them celebrate. I have zero memory of what Chicago did on the ice. I couldn't watch it. If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it myself, not watch somebody else do it.

I was leaving the ice. And (Hall of Fame coach) Scotty Bowman came up and said some uplifting words to me, probably to make me feel better. It was a cool moment because it was Scotty Bowman. It was coming from the heart. I'll always remember him saying to me, 'I lost my first three Cup finals series, I was 0-12 in Cup Final games.' And he goes, 'You'll be back.'

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement