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Lightning head coach Jon Cooper returns from COVID protocol

Cooper and forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare are back, while three more members of the organization and a broadcaster enter protocol.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper watches during the third period of a 9-3 loss to the Panthers on Thursday in Sunrise. Cooper was behind the bench for the first time since testing positive for the coronavirus Dec. 21.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper watches during the third period of a 9-3 loss to the Panthers on Thursday in Sunrise. Cooper was behind the bench for the first time since testing positive for the coronavirus Dec. 21. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published Dec. 30, 2021|Updated Dec. 31, 2021

Coach Jon Cooper returned to the Lightning bench for Thursday’s road game against the Panthers, but the team continued to deal with a revolving door of organization members going into and out of the COVID-19 protocol.

Center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who went into the protocol Sunday as the team returned from the holiday break, was cleared to play. But defenseman Cal Foote, forward Taylor Raddysh and goaltending coach Frantz Jean were added to the protocol. They joined goaltenders Andrei Vasilevskiy and Brian Elliott, center Anthony Cirelli, defensemen Mikhail Sergachev and Andrej Sustr, and assistant coach Rob Zettler.

That made nine organization members in the protocol.

Additionally, Lightning TV play-by-play man Dave Randorf entered the protocol. Former Lightning broadcaster Rick Peckham, who retired after the 2019-20 season, filled in for Randorf.

Cooper, out since just before the Lightning’s game in Las Vegas on Dec. 21, called the experience frustrating because his symptoms were mild.

“I think you have to be cognizant of your league and humanity, the world and everything that’s going on, and I understand that,” Cooper said. “I can only speak for myself, but what I went through, it was extremely frustrating to have to sit on sidelines … because what I have felt during this time, I’ve felt many times worse at many different times in my life. I think if you ask most of the players, if not all of them, they will probably tell you the same thing.

“Hopefully science wins out here and common sense really starts to win out, and we kind of can plow through this.”

Assistant coach Derek Lalonde filled in for Cooper, winning both games he worked as interim head coach. Cooper watched both games on TV, the first one in isolation in his Las Vegas hotel room and the second at home in Tampa with his family, which was a first for him.

The league continues to test all players, coaches and staff daily but announced Wednesday that it was shortening the isolation time for those who test positive from 10 days to five in the United States if symptoms are gone or they then test negative, in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent recommendation.

Bellemare said the worst part was having to isolate away from his two young children, particularly his daughter, whom he calls a “hugger.”

“When you’re coming out of the room mask on, gloves on and she’s asking for hugs and you’re like, ‘No, I can’t. I’m sick,’ her head goes down and she goes away like she did something wrong. That felt a little bit tough, got to be honest,” Bellemare said. “But I felt like at the end, towards the last days, it was more like, ‘All right, Papa, go back to your room. You’re sick.’ "

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With Sergachev and Foote out, defenseman Darren Raddysh will make his NHL debut tonight. The team Lightning recalled forwards Alex Barre-Boulet and Remi Elie, and added them to the taxi squad.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.

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