TAMPA — After winning back-to-back Stanley Cup championships with the Lightning, coach Jon Cooper is chasing another kind of world title.
The Lightning head coach, of Prince George, British Columbia, will lead the Canadian men’s hockey team at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, China. That is, if NHL players are allowed to participate.
The league and the International Olympic Committee have yet to come to an agreement. Despite the uncertainty, the NHL planned an Olympic break in its 2021-22 schedule, which was released in late July.
Along with Cooper, three assistant coaches were also named for Team Canada: Islanders coach Barry Trotz, Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer and Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy.
“It’s humbling and a privilege to be a part of this group,” Cooper said Monday afternoon on a Team Canada media call. “I may have the moniker of head coach, but we’re all head coaches on this team and we’re all going to work together as a group and have fun as a group and there’s such a wealth of knowledge in all these coaches.”
Team Canada knows events can change on the flip of a dime, even if an agreement is reached. The Tokyo Games just wrapped up and were held without spectators and strict protocols for athletes. There already are plans to have even stricter precautions in place when the Winter Games open in China.
But those involved are not letting circumstances deter any of the excitement surrounding the possibility of the NHL returning to the Olympics for the first time since 2012.
On Friday, coaches and management staff held a meeting, which coincidentally came right around the time Team Canada defeated Team Sweden in the women’s Olympic gold medal soccer match.
“Literally, the penalty kick went in and then we had to start our meeting,” Cooper recalled. “Everybody was pumped up on the meeting. That’s all we talked about for probably the first 10 minutes ... it was so exciting to watch the Olympics on this side of everything.”
Cooper, the longest tenured coach in the league after eight seasons with the Lightning, is no stranger to the big stage. In addition to winning two Stanley Cups, he has an IIHF World Championship silver medal (he was the head coach of Team Canada in 2017) and a Calder Cup (he was head coach of Norfolk in 2011-12).
And he knows the challenge ahead won’t be any easier.
“What more exciting time is there as a coach (than to be) part of the Stanley Cup final — and I’ve been fortunate to be in a few of those — but to be a part of the Olympic Games, it’s the Olympic Games,” he said. “I’m fired up just talking about it. It’s an exciting time.”
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Growing up, Cooper spent much of his childhood shooting at the open laundry dryer in the basement of his family home. He joked that the puck marks on the outer part of the dryer hint as to why he never made it as an NHL player.
With his background and upbringing, he understands first-hand the opportunity he has before him to contribute to Canada’s rich history in the sport. And he doesn’t plan on wasting it.
“It’s surreal to be in this spot,” he said. “I don’t want to say it’s a lifelong dream, but in the end, to be able to say you’re representing Canada in Olympic ice hockey, I couldn’t be more proud.”
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