SUNRISE — Jon Cooper watched Anton Stralman go into a corner, hunting the puck, and said to himself, “C’mon, Strals, come out with that.”
Then he remembered Stralman is no longer on the Lightning.
“Oh, wait a sec, don’t.”
It’s weird for him to see a player he coached for five of his six years full seasons with the Lightning on the other team now.
Stralman welcomed the Lightning to his new home Saturday with a 4-3 Panthers win. Well, more accurately, the new Panther welcomed them back. The Lightning visited Stralman for the first time 10 days ago in the preseason, but this time it was for real.
They exchanged pleasantries in the hallway outside the dressing room after that preseason game. Handshakes, good to see yous passed around as they caught up.
“Anton Stralman is a wonderful human being,” Cooper said. “He meant so much to our team. There’s no coincidence that we did a whole lot of winning when he was playing for us.”
It was a little weird for Stralman, too, being back at Amalie Arena on Thursday for the teams’ season opener. He wasn’t sure he’d been in the visiting dressing room since it had old blue metal stalls, back when he played for the Rangers in 2014.
“It’s special coming back and you see a lot of familiar faces on and off the ice,” said Stralman, who signed with the Panthers as a free agent in the offseason. “It brings back a lot of memories.”
Returning to former teams is old hat for him. This was his fourth first game back in a building he had previously called home, and he called himself “weathered in that situation.”
Stralman’s only Lightning regret is that he never won the Stanley Cup with them. The 2018 Eastern Conference final loss to the Capitals stings the most, more than last year’s loss in a sweep to the Blue Jackets in the first round.
In the 2015 playoffs, the Lightning lost to a more experienced Blackhawks team in the Cup final. In the 2016 playoffs they lost to a better Penguins team in the conference final. In the 2016-17 season, they couldn’t get it together and missed the playoffs. Last season was tough, but if the Lightning had won in the first round, who knows what would have happened after that.
But 2018 hurt. Stralman figures the Lightning could have won it all if they’d met their standards against the Capitals.