The Tampa Bay Lightning may be in a rebuilding stage, but unlike other clubs who have been in similar situations around the league, look for the Bolts to be a formidable opponent in the very near future, even as early as this season. This is largely in part to high draft picks, and more importantly quality coaching changes behind the bench.
Jon Cooper is Primed to Take his Coaching to the Next Level and Beyond
On March 25, 2013 the Tampa Bay Lightning announced that they would hand the reigns of their club over to a relatively unknown man in Jon Cooper. Many Bolts fans in the area seemed baffled by the move, but as I see it time will prove Cooper’s coaching prowess. He is a man that knows how to win, and has got the job done at every level of the coaching spectrum from juniors through the AHL. The hockey community has long known Cooper to be a commanding presence behind the bench and in the locker room, but in a way that his players respect him and have confidence in the systems he uses.
He is a man who earns the respect of his players and in turn, leads them down a path to victory. As you can see by his career coaching stats below (thanks to hockeyDB), Jon Cooper has an innate talent for seeing the future of the game, and tailoring his team’s style of play to excel at just that. He does this by getting the most out of his players on and off the ice, while maintaining a positive relationship with each of them. This is something that is so important in the game today, but seems to be more and more rare, which may very well give the Lightning an edge under Cooper’s leadership. How does he do this so consistently you may ask? Because he also knows how to surround himself with excellent help, cue his assistants.
|2006-07||St. Louis Bandits||NAHL||Head||62||43||14||0||5||0.734|
|2007-08||St. Louis Bandits||NAHL||Head||58||47||9||0||2||0.828|
|2008-09||Green Bay Gamblers||USHL||Head||60||39||17||0||4||0.683||Lost in round 2|
|2009-10||Green Bay Gamblers||USHL||Head||60||45||10||0||5||0.792||Won Championship|
|2010-11||Norfolk Admirals||AHL||Head||80||39||26||0||15||0.581||Lost in round 1|
|2011-12||Norfolk Admirals||AHL||Head||76||55||18||0||3||0.743||Won Championship|
|2012-13||Syracuse Crunch||AHL||Head||76||43||22||0||11||0.638||Lost in Finals|
|2012-13||Tampa Bay Lightning||NHL||Head‡|
Lightning Assistant Coaches Bring Experience at All Levels
Jon Cooper may be at the helm of the ship here in Tampa, but he is joined by 2 individuals that share a combined 70 years of collegiate, and minor/major pro hockey experience. The newest member of the Lightning coaching staff is George Gwozdecky, a former NCAA Division 1 head coach for former WCHA powerhouse, the University of Denver (who now play in the new NCHC). Gwozdecky brings his almost 30 years of experience to the Bolts organization, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Given the number of young future stars in the Lightning organization, and Gwozdecky’s ability to gain the most from his players throughout his career in the NCAA ranks, one can’t help but get excited for the future.
George Gwozdecky will be the glue that bonds the team together, and that develops the young guns into all stars in front of our very eyes. His proven leadership granted him 3 overall NCAA Division 1 national championships, 2 of which were back-to-back championships with Denver from 2004-2005 as a head coach (what’s the 3rd you ask? A 1986 Michigan State team he was the assistant coach of). Gwozdecky will look to maintain that positive relationship with the Lightning’s younger players coming from the collegiate game and from the Syracuse Crunch, and build on it at the NHL level. This should give Tampa an edge in the Eastern Conference for years to come.
Rick Bowness: A Tried and True Career Continues in Tampa
Jon Cooper’s other ace-in-the-hole comes from the Vancouver Canucks organization most recently, but has a total of 41 years pro hockey experience. Rick Bowness had a 9 year pro career before turning to coaching, and he has never looked back. Although he doesn’t have the winning background of Jon Cooper or George Gwozdecky, he brings tons of knowledge and energy to the table. Look for Bowness to guide Tampa’s run and gun offense to another breakout year in scoring, and keep a close eye at the subtle changes he and Cooper will make to the transitional game. Bowness will also help the Lightning toughen up to ensure that no one pushes the Bolts around the ice this season. That is why he is such a key addition to the organization.
Rick Bowness knows how to play the game at a high level, and he knows how to coach it as well. His grit will add a much needed attribute to the Lightning’s game which should help reduce goals against, and add extra energy into the lineup in those tight 1 goal games. This should give the Tampa Bay Lightning the edge they need to pull out the close victories that have been slipping away in recent years past.
All in all, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s future seems to be very bright due to front office moves, and the correct coaching changes. The greatest piece of the new team may very well be the concrete coaching staff that is now in place, allowing each of them to can feed off of each other to fill any gaps in their team’s play as they arise. The video above (thanks to NHL.com, and Bolts TV) pretty much sums up the coaching mind set; be passionate, clear, and concise to stay focused on the end goal: forming a team that can become a dynasty for years to come.
If you enjoyed what you’ve just read, follow me on Twitter to stay up to date with all Lightning news! @pep30
Mike has covered the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning in depth for The Hockey Writers since 2013. He is also a contributing writer for KSDK News Channel 5, the St. Louis area NBC affiliate, and has been a credentialed media member of the Blues since 2014. Follow him on Twitter @pep30.