TAMPA -- New Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper may have looked calm as he prepared to coach his first game in the NHL, but looks can be deceiving.
"How am I looking right now? Am I looking OK?" Cooper asked the media after the morning skate. "OK, so take this and do the opposite and that's what is going on in here. I'm jacked. This is really, really exciting. I've got a plan. I've done it my way, and here I stand today. I wouldn't say that I'm really nervous, although five minutes before the game I'm sure I will be. There is a wave of emotions. I wish everyone could feel what I'm feeling right now. It's pretty cool."
Cooper will debut behind the bench Friday night when the Lightning play the New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
A big question Cooper will have to answer is if he can bring the team-building, motivational system which has worked so well for him in the past to the NHL, and whether he can get the veterans on the team to buy in.
One thing Cooper made clear: He won't be changing what has worked to get him here.
"I've had a lot of success at a lot of levels," Cooper said. "In high school it worked. In junior B it worked, we won a national championship there, in Tier II it worked, we won two national championships there, in Tier I it worked, and in the American Hockey League it worked. Some of the greatest advice I've been given from great hockey people in this League is, 'Coop, when you go in there don't change a thing.' So, I'm sticking to my guns and if it doesn't work, it was a great ride."
Another likely debut Friday night will be defenseman Andrej Sustr, signed March 28 after 39 games with the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Cooper said Sustr will be in the lineup if he decides to use seven defensemen, which appeared likely.
"It's amazing that a guy that big can skate like that," Cooper said of 6-foot-8 Sustr. "If you can skate in this League, you have the ability to survive for a while. I like him. It's only been two practices, but he doesn't look out of place at all."
Sustr, for his part, didn't seem too stressed about his first NHL appearance.
"I wasn't too out of place," he said. "Guys are faster and skilled, but I think I did pretty well for myself and we'll see what happens tonight."
For New Jersey, forward Alexei Ponikarovsky returns to the lineup after missing three games with a lower-body injury.
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