Canada’s 2026 Olympic Team Should Be Coached by Jon Cooper

There are many reasons to like Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. He perfectly balances a laid-back, approachable demeanor with a fierce competitiveness that demands the best from his players. Players love to play for him and the media love to talk with him. Watch any almost any interview with Cooper, and he is bound to make you smile, think deeply about hockey, and demonstrate his vast knowledge of and passion for the sport. Simply put, Jon Cooper is a likable guy whose popularity reaches across the league and beyond.

Cooper’s character was on full display during an interview with NHL Network on March 7 in which he discussed his charity event Coop’s Catch for Kids. The annual gathering unites kids from the Tampa Bay community, the Lightning roster, and other celebrities (this year Wayne Gretzky attended) for a day of fishing to raise funds for pediatric cancer research. Talking to the panel from his office and through a somewhat-shakily held phone camera, Cooper lit up talking about how fun and successful the event was this year. It is the side of the head coach everyone loves.

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Jon Cooper is currently the longest tenured coach in the NHL at 11 years (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Kevin Weekes, toward the end of the interview (not so) slyly prompted Cooper to divulge any news about coaching Team Canada at the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy. Cooper laughed and said he had not been asked yet. While Cooper’s personality alone is not the reason he should coach Team Canada, I could not help but watch that interview and realize he displayed all his qualifications for the position in about 15 minutes. Hockey Canada has already named Doug Armstrong general manager of the team, but there has been little discussion about who should lead from behind the bench. Cooper is the obvious choice.

Cooper’s Pedigree and Success at Every Level

During the 2014-15 season, Cooper’s second full season as head coach of the Lightning, he seemed destined to win the Stanley Cup. After all, he had won at every level as a head coach. In 2000, he led Lansing Catholic High School to the team’s first regional championship. Then, in 2003, he won the Silver Cup with the Metro Jets in the North American 3 Hockey League. By 2007, he had moved up to the North American Hockey League and won the championship with the St. Louis Bandits two seasons in a row (2007 and 2008).

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Cooper made it to the United States Hockey League in 2008, and in two years he coached the Green Bay Gamblers to w Clark Cup championship. By now, he had caught the attention of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization, which brought him on to coach the Norfolk Admirals (the organization’s American Hockey League affiliate) in 2010. Unsurprisingly, the team won the Calder Cup in 2012.

While the Lightning did not win the Stanley Cup in 2015, no one was surprised that Cooper finally won it in 2020 and again in 2021. It was only a matter of time. He has accomplished everything a head coach could dream of…well, almost everything.

I do not think it would be greedy for Cooper to want to add a shiny piece of gold to his resume. As laidback and fun-loving as he appears, we know he is a competitor. He thought he would have the chance in 2022 (which we will discuss further below), but the NHL backed out of participating in the Winter Olympics in China. Cooper said, “that was a tough blow when we got the ‘We’re not going.'” Clearly, he wants to lead whatever roster Hockey Canada assembles. The NHL’s return to the Olympics in 2026 provides him that chance.

The 2022 Winter Olympics

In August 2021, Hockey Canada appointed Jon Cooper head coach of Team Canada for the 2022 Winter Olympics. The NHL pulled out only a few months later in December. Those four months did not provide him much time in the captain’s seat of that ship, but during his interview with NHL Network, Cooper did provide some interesting insight into how he initially went about his duties.

“When I was going through the Olympic process, and teams would come through [Tampa Bay], the coaches, Jared Bednar let me into his room, and I’d go sit down with Cale Makar. [Mike Sullivan] let me in, and I’d go sit down. [Sidney] Crosby sat in this office right with me. We talked for a half hour, talking about the Olympics. I got to meet all the Canadian kids were going to have a really good shot at playing on this team,” Cooper told Kevin Weekes.

Related: Will Sidney Crosby be a Career Pittsburgh Penguin?

Those conversations left a desire in Cooper to see that project through to the end. More than that though, his experience throughout the four months prepared him for 2026. Of course, four years makes a difference, so situations can change. The two players he mentioned, though, will most likely be on the roster in 2026. No one would be surprised if the 2026 Canadian roster looks similar to what would have been in 2022; while we will never know to what extent they’ll be the same, Cooper knows better than anyone else.

In his ever-humble attitude, Cooper added, “If it works out, it works out. But, trust me, there’s so many good coaches, you could pick a bunch of guys, and they’d do a heck of a job.” His understated comments, and the look on his face if you watch the interview, reveal he wants this job. Do not be fooled.

Looking Ahead to the 2026 Winter Olympics

I will finish by repeating what I said at the beginning: there are many reasons to like Jon Cooper. If you are Canadian, one of those reasons is he will give Team Canada the best chance to win gold in 2026 at Milan-Cortina. Cooper’s resume speaks for itself, and he combines that “players’ coach” style with “old school grit” to push players to their best. Clearly, he did enough to earn the post in 2022. He has done even more since.