When the Tampa Bay Lightning started their American Hockey League (AHL) partnership with the Syracuse Crunch in 2012, the organization’s prospects coined the phrase “TampaCuse,” which, of course, is just the simple merger of the town names but made such an impact on social media that the name stuck. The unofficial moniker has been used since then to represent this connection’s impact on developing players that have played a large part in the team’s success.
Much of the success can be attributed to the leadership that the head coaches have provided in Syracuse. This started with current head coach Jon Cooper, who became the head coach of the Crunch after the Lightning changed their AHL affiliation. In 65 games with the Crunch, Cooper led the team to a 39-18-3-5 record, the best in the AHL at the time of his promotion to become the head coach of the Lightning in 2016.
In May 2016, Ben Groulx was named head coach of the Crunch. The 55-year-old coached the Crunch to the franchise’s second Calder Cup Final appearance in his first season with the team. He holds a 161-90-18-21 record in his first four seasons with the Crunch. His 0.622 points percentage is second among head coaches in franchise history behind Cooper (0.662), and he is the only coach to lead the Crunch to the playoffs in each fully completed season.
Similar Coaching Styles
Cooper and Groulx have similar coaching styles in that both are very demanding, as they stress a hard-nosed, two-way game that Tampa Bay and Groulx demand as a non-negotiable. Without a deep prospect pool, the Lightning have had to develop a lot of talent with mid-level draft picks such as Ross Colton and Anthony Cirelli. Much of this has been made possible by not only Groulx implementing the organization’s development strategy but also maintaining a high level of accountability that has been an integral part of the franchise’s success.
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Current Crunch captain Gabriel Dumont knows what Groulx and the organization have in mind as far as expecting players to work hard and find an identity as a player and team. “I think Ben always says that there’s a big difference between working hard — or even thinking you’re working hard — and actually working hard and competing. The word we hear most in Syracuse is ‘compete.’ Dumont said in a recent interview. “A lot of times you can work hard, but there’s an extra step that you can take [that] is called ‘competing.’”
Earning Coaching Stripes
Much like Cooper, the native of Quebec has worked his way up through the coaching ranks. Groulx has worked 13 total seasons as a head coach in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) with the Hull/Gatineau Olympiques, posting a career record of 460-293-18-59. He led his teams to league championships in 2003, 2004, and 2008, earning QMJHL Coach of the Year honors for the 2003-04 season. Groulx also had stints with Team Canada at the World Junior Championship, including the 2015 Championship team that included current Lightning standouts Brayden Point and Nick Paul. He also had two years of head coaching experience in the AHL prior to the Crunch, with the Rochester Americans leading them to a Calder Cup Playoff appearance.
Groulx’s success has not been lost on the organization. After his contract extension in 2021, general manager Stacy Roest commented on his importance to the Crunch and the Lightning. “Ben has proven to be a key part of our organization. His leadership and structure have played an important role in developing our prospects, consistently producing a competitive Syracuse Crunch team, and contributing to the success of the Tampa Bay Lightning.”
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While the Lightning realize that they have a quality coach in their developmental program, they also know that Groulx should not and probably will not be there for much longer. He has expressed a desire to be a head coach in the NHL, having previously interviewed with the Arizona Coyotes in 2021 (from “Ben Groulx reflects on Syracuse Crunch season, eyes NHL coaching job: ‘I want to coach in the NHL.'” Syracuse Post-Standard, May 19, 2022). When that well-deserved opportunity does happen, it will leave a big gap in the Lightning’s program of developing prospects.