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Jon Cooper on Stanley Cup: ‘It’s like walking in with Mick Jagger’

The Lightning coach feels like he’s with a rock star when he enters a room with the NHL’s championship trophy.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper hoists the Stanley Cup following Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final in September at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper hoists the Stanley Cup following Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final in September at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta. [ MARKO DITKUN | Special to the Times ]
Published Dec. 3, 2020
Updated Dec. 3, 2020

TAMPA — Lightning coach Jon Cooper hasn’t had his official day with the Stanley Cup yet, but he’s had his share of time with the trophy. And every time he takes it around Tampa Bay, he feels like he’s being accompanied by a rock star.

“Honestly, I can’t explain the feeling,” Cooper said on The Two-Man Advantage Podcast with The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside. “I have people say, ‘Well, what’s it like?’ I was like, you know what? Nobody really wants to see Jon Cooper nor really cares, but as soon as you’re with the Stanley Cup, it’s like walking in with Mick Jagger. It is. It is such a remarkable trophy.”

Having taken the Cup to firehouses, police stations and schools around Tampa Bay, Cooper said he realizes the importance of immersing it in the community — especially since fans weren’t allowed to celebrate the win in person due to the postseason being played in bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton.

Because of the pandemic, the Cup has spent the offseason primarily in Tampa — it went to Montreal to be engraved — and players returned to the area to have their days with it.

“We’ve been able to have it around just because it has been around,” Cooper said. “And so you kind of take it. I get to take a little peek at the calendar and see where it is, and if it’s available for a few hours I’ve nabbed it, and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Cooper said perhaps his best moments with the Cup have been in quiet reflection, understanding the history of the trophy and what it took to win it.

“I’ve had it in my house where we just sit, me or maybe my son (Jonny), or my wife (Jessie), and it’s the girls (Julia and Josie),” Cooper said. “You just look at it with that sense of accomplishment but understanding, it just exudes history. And you look at it and look at the names on it and the people that have won it and you know the sweat and tears and everything that went into winning it and to think 100 years before that happened. It’s a treasure to be around regardless of what day of the week it is or who you’re with it is.”

The pandemic has made for a unique offseason for not only the reigning Cup champs, but the entire league. The league and players have yet to come to an agreement on a format for the upcoming season, likely pushing a potential starting date well into January at the earliest. But preparing for uncertainty, Cooper said, isn’t new because it’s much like the way the Lightning had to anticipate the restart last season following the pause.

“This is the exact same thing that happened pre-bubble,” Cooper said. “We were in this exact same situation. But there was way more unknown than there is now. We’ve done this before. We know how to run a short camp with not a ton of players, and it’s one of those (things): If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

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The league is likely to have regional division realignments to keep teams close and cut down on travel, possibly with teams going on the road to play multiple games similar to the Major League Baseball season. Cooper likened such series to mini-playoff scenarios — something he likes — but he prefers the tradition of playing every team in the regular season.

“It is good to play other teams, so that I’m really gonna miss,” Cooper said. “It’s pretty cool to think about (division realignments) maybe. Now you’re gonna go to some other cities more often, like for instance if we are tangled in with a couple west teams when normally you just go in there once and that’s it.”

“It’s going to be a little bit different, but I think it’s going to be better than having no fans at all and no hockey at all,” Cooper said. “You really find out how much people miss sports and how much they miss hockey when you don’t have it. And I think that’s the exciting part is the sport is pretty healthy and it’s just unfortunate that we’re going through this time right now where the fans who really drive our sport and make us grow aren’t able to watch. But I think as we slowly get to come back here they will, and that’ll be really, really exciting.”

At this point, so many pieces of the upcoming season are uncertain: how teams will be grouped, how many games the season will be and whether there will be fans in the stands. As always, the goal is to win the Cup, although being the team defending it carries a different mindset, Cooper said.

“It’s not gonna be any different this year, but it’s different in the sense that now we’re defending it,” he said. “We’re not chasing it, we’re defending it, so my mindset is really on how we’re going to develop that as a group. … You can’t rest on, ‘Hey, we won. Let’s exhale.’ Let’s (be), ‘Hey we won. Remember this feeling and how much we loved it. Let’s not let anybody take this from us. Let’s go out and attack this and defend it.’”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at Follow @EddieInTheYard.

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