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Jon Cooper says Lightning ready to play hockey on any planet

“As long as we get to come back and play and it’s safe for everyone, and we can put a smile on people’s faces," he said.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper watches from the bench as his team plays against the Minnesota Wild in January in St. Paul, Minn.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper watches from the bench as his team plays against the Minnesota Wild in January in St. Paul, Minn. [ HANNAH FOSLIEN | AP ]
Published Apr. 24, 2020
Updated Apr. 24, 2020

Like many Lightning fans, Jon Cooper is ready for hockey to return.

The coach has stayed in touch with his players, revisited the joys of math with his children and learned what podcasts are really all about while taking long bike rides along Anna Maria Island for his daily workout. And yes, he has tuned into Alex Killorn’s “Dock Talk with Killer” episodes on Instagram Live.

But when — or if — hockey returns this season after being put on hold March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic, Cooper said the Lightning will be ready to get back onto the ice.

“As long as we get to come back and play, and it’s safe for everyone and we can put a smile on people’s faces, it doesn’t matter where we play, what planet we play on, I think it’s a good thing,” Cooper said on a conference call Friday.

Related: Lightning’s Alex Killorn announces 'Dock Talk’ T-shirt sale to help children in need

He isn’t worried just about the safety of his players, but also that of the fans, staff, officials and everyone else involved in holding games.

Cooper is holding out hope that at some point things will get back to normal, that social distancing won’t have to be a concern and you can walk up to someone, ask how they’re doing, shake their hand and maybe “crack open a beer.”

“I hope social interactions don’t go away,” he said. “It’s important that we try to get back to normal, because the normal is great.”

Cooper has spent a lot of time watching film and working with his staff on analysis that they wouldn’t normally have time to do until the offseason.

“We’ve really dug deep into trying to look at things we can improve on as a group,” Cooper said. “It’s been welcome because … it seemed like you had so much time on your hands at the beginning of this pandemic, and now it feels like you don’t have any time on your hands just with how we’ve been digging into things with our team.

“Now we want to apply it and get back to work and see what we can do with the rest of the season.”

When he’s not looking at film or taking a bicycle ride, Cooper is spending time with his family, playing board games and watching TV with his wife, Jessie, and their three children: twin daughters Josie and Julia, 11, and son Jonny, 9.

Related: Lightning announce #StickTogether auction to benefit coronavirus relief efforts

“The season is so long and is such a grind, but when it gets to the end, you just can’t believe how it flew by,” he said. “And you talk about that in the professional sense, that also goes for the personal and family side of things. It blows by.

“There’s so often where you’ll go weeks, 10 days without seeing your family. You come back and your kids look different because they’ve grown since you’ve been gone. So to be able to spend this time with them … it’s been a little bit of a blessing, especially when you’re confined in an area and have to spend time with each other. For me, I’ve loved it.”

Elsewhere Friday, general manager Julien BriseBois hopped on a call with some other NHL GMs. Here are highlights from his chat:

  • • BriseBois’ wife, Marie, has stayed busy working as a pharmacist in the Tampa Bay area. As an essential worker, she goes to work daily. But BriseBois said his family has been lucky. “Fortunately, I don’t know anyone who has had (COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus) in the area, and I don’t know anyone who knows anyone who’s had it.”
  • • Homeschooling his sons, Justin and Jacob, has also been a pretty seamless transition for the family. “They’re old enough that they can do it on their own. We don’t have to be teaching them. I can’t complain on a personal level; we’ve been pretty fortunate.”
  • BriseBois said the Lightning have been fortunate to be in a position to be able to add talent to the roster at the trade deadline. "We’ve been In a position in our standings where we’ve been looking to add at the deadline the last two years, and this year we felt we were fortunate that we were in an opportunity to do that. And now, we really look forward to when we’re going to get the opportunity to see the team we have now and what the makeup of that team is and what potential that team (has).”

Also, captain Steven Stamkos, who had surgery to repair a core muscle injury March 2, gave a quick update on his rehabilitation process via a video conference that the team posted.

“I wouldn’t use the word lucky with having to have that surgery,” he said. “But with the timing of all this, it was devastating at the beginning because I thought I would possibly be missing some playoff games. And the stoppage happened and we didn’t know how long it was gonna be. So kind of the silver lining in that was I’ll be ready when we resume. So I’ve been able to still use this time to rehab. I’ve been going to the rink … about three times a week to skate and just start feeling normal again.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.