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Red Wings coach Mike Babcock praises Lightning counterpart Jon Cooper

Lightning coach Jon Cooper drew high praise from his playoff counterpart. Detroit’s Mike Babcock called Cooper a “serial winner.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper drew high praise from his playoff counterpart. Detroit’s Mike Babcock called Cooper a “serial winner.”
Published Apr. 20, 2015

TAMPA — Mike Babcock is considered by many to be the best coach in the NHL.

So it's especially notable to hear the respect the veteran Red Wings coach has for his counterpart in this first-round series, the Lightning's Jon Cooper, who is in his second full season. Babcock calls him a "serial winner.

"Coop is like a lot of guys, maybe in the media not an instant sensation, but he had to earn his way here, that's what he did," Babcock said. "He's a lacrosse guy from Prince George, B.C., he's a lawyer and decided that he loved hockey more than he loved the law.

"He's been successful. When you look at guys that are serial winners — wherever he goes, he wins — Coop would be in that class. He's now at the level, the hardest level to do it each and every year over a long period of time."

Cooper has won a championship at every level, from the NAHL to USHL and AHL, each time in his second season. Babcock, who has 458 wins in a 10-year run with Detroit, including a Stanley Cup, believes the Lightning is positioned for long-term success. Babcock just hopes this year isn't the start.

"He's in a good situation," Babcock said. "They're set up, I believe, with their young players for a long six-seven years for sure."

Lasting impact: Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman's influence on the Red Wings organization was immeasurable, the iconic long-time captain hoisting three Stanley Cups.

But Yzerman also made a lasting impact on Detroit's two best players, captain Henrik Zetterberg and C Pavel Datsyuk.

"A big impact," said Zetterberg, a teammate for three seasons. "I sat next to him his last two years in the locker room, obviously he was one of my big idols growing up. He (taught) me a lot, just the preparation and being there when it mattered the most."

Datsyuk, 36, played four seasons with Yzerman. But Yzerman also played a role in the Red Wings signing Datsyuk to a seven-year extension in 2007, GM Ken Holland said.

Yzerman had retired in 2006, joining the Detroit executive staff. Datsyuk, who had gone 21 straight playoff games without a goal, was working on a deal.

"And Steve backed Pav," Holland said. "He said, 'Absolutely, get it done.' And we signed him to a seven-year deal at $6.7 million (per). We all believed in Pav, but nice to hear the captain come out of the locker room and endorse Pav. It really became Zetterberg and Datsyuk's team the last 10 years. The rest is history."