Jon Cooper: Serial Winner

Jack Adams Letdown

During the Round One series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Detroit Red Wings, Mike Babcock called his coaching counterpart, Jon Cooper, a serial winner.  High praise indeed from a coach who has won one Stanley Cup Championship, took another to the Stanley Cup Finals.  Babcock’s lengthy resume would take more space than I am allowed on this piece.  Suffice it to say that when a coach with this kind of pedigree speaks so reverently about one of his peers, people all over the NHL take notice.

Perhaps they became acquainted with each other in Las Vegas last June when Babcock and Cooper made up two of the three Jack Adams Trophy finalists.  Maybe because the third guy up for Coach of the Year, Patrick Roy, of the Colorado Avalanche, won the award that Babcock and Cooper commiserated with each other over the loss and they got to know each other. Take a look and listen to a profile done by NHL Network and Kevin Weekes on Cooper:

Whatever the case, when he termed Cooper a serial winner, Babcock hit the proverbial nail on the head.  Simply put, Jon Cooper has won at just about every level he has coached.

 Unimpressive Start

Many people did not know who Jon Cooper was when he was named the Tampa Bay Lightning Head Coach to replace Guy Boucher on March 25, 2013.  Cooper took over with 16 games and didn’t exactly set Tampa Bay on fire as he led the team to a 5-8-3 record as they played out the string.

There were some Lightning fans who were aware that Cooper had been the coach of their AHL affiliate, Norfolk Admirals for a little over two years before he was tabbed by General Manager, Steve Yzerman as the new Lightning coach.  Die-hard fans of the organization were also aware that Cooper had won the Calder Cup with Norfolk with some of the same players now on the Lightning roster.

Real hard core fans also knew that while at Norfolk, Cooper led the Admirals to a 28 consecutive game winning streak.  This is the longest streak by any professional hockey team.  Maybe more fans should have been aware of Jon Cooper long before he was named the Lightning coach.

Renaissance Man

Many who have come to know even a little bit of his background find Jon Cooper interesting.  Here is a man who excelled so much in a sport that he earned an athletic scholarship.  It would be a no-brainer to tell you that the sport was hockey but it was in lacrosse.  He does play on the hockey team but excels in lacrosse.

It may also be hard to believe that a dozen years ago, Cooper worked in the Public Defender’s office in Lansing, Michigan after a short stint on Wall Street.  Not only interesting but this is one smart cookie.

So Jon Cooper gives up a potentially lucrative Wall Street career then gives up a potentially rewarding law career to coach hockey.  And just where does he start?  High school.  A judge he knew asked Cooper to coach the judge’s son’s high school team.  Cooper agrees to do this, maybe it’s to get a favorable ruling in court someday, maybe it’s because he misses the game of hockey.  When the dust settles on that season, the Lansing Catholic Central High School hockey team were Regional Champs for the first time in a generation.

Winning, More Winning, and Even More Winning

From that start at the high school level, Cooper begins coaching at the Junior B level.  He also continues to win.  A National championship at the Junior B level.  From the Junior B’s, Cooper moves to the hockey hotbed of Texarkana, Texas to coach in the North American Hockey League.

During his first year there, the Texarkana Bandits moved to St. Louis but kept the Bandit name.  In his second season at the helm of the Bandits in 2007, Jon Cooper won the Robertson Cup.  This is the NAHL equivalent of the Stanley Cup.  For an encore, in 2008, the St. Louis Bandits won again with Jon Cooper as coach and G.M.

Cooper was the toast of St. Louis and could have had whatever he wanted in that town, when he surprised everyone in the Bandit organization by accepting the coaching position of the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League. It is there that Jon Cooper makes this video below.  Okay, so he wasn’t quite ready for Prime Time yet but you could see a glimpse.

Cooper also did one other thing in his second year at Green Bay.  The season before he arrived, the Gamblers were the bottom feeders.  Last place.  In his second year, Jon Cooper led the Gamblers to the Clark Cup.  You see where this is going, the Clark Cup is the USHL equivalent of the Stanley Cup.  You should begin to see what Mike Babcock was talking about when he called Cooper a serial winner.

From Green Bay, Jon Cooper gets a call from the Tampa Bay Lightning a couple of months after Steve Yzerman was hired by Jeffrey Vinik to be the V.P. and G.M. of the team.  Slated to coach the AHL affiliate Norfolk Admiral, Cooper again leads a team to a championship in his second season with the team.

In 2012, Norfolk won the Calder Cup with Jon Cooper as the head coach.  It is almost uncanny how much this guy wins.  He is without any reservation on my part, an unparalleled leader of men who play hockey.  He has won with teenagers.  He has won with guys just out of their teens.  He has won with guys who dream of playing in the NHL someday.  He continues to win with NHL players.  He coaches players and they win.

For whatever reason they seem to win in his second season leading the team.  The good news for the Tampa Bay Lightning is that this is Cooper’s second full season behind the bench.  While it is not a guarantee he will lead Tampa to the Promised Land, it is a guarantee that Cooper will lead his men in the best way he knows.  And what this guy knows is one thing– how to win.