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Cooper brings impressive track record, familiarity to Bolts

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

Jon Cooper is the new head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

But he’s not exactly new, of course.

Maybe to the NHL, one could argue, but certainly not to a number of its players currently on the Lightning roster.

That’s because for the past two and a half years, Cooper has been the head coach of Tampa Bay’s top minor league affiliate, which upon his arrival in 2010 was nestled in Norfolk – whom he led to an American Hockey League Calder Cup championship last season – but which now resides in Syracuse.

Thus, in similar fashion as he has with his players recently, Bolts general manager Steve Yzerman promoted yet again from within, this time tabbing Cooper to serve behind the Bolts bench, replacing Guy Boucher, who was dismissed on Sunday.

“There is no other team in hockey that I would rather be coaching than the Tampa Bay Lightning,” Cooper said upon accepting the position. “It's quite a tribute to Steve Yzerman and Jeff Vinik and the organization they are building that are proud to promote from within. I look forward to getting to know the players and getting to work right away.”

For the most part, that won’t take very long.

When he makes his expected NHL coaching debut on Friday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Cooper will be reunited with 10 individuals who are currently featured on the Lightning’s NHL roster, but whom at one point this season all played under his guidance in Syracuse of the AHL.

Among them are Cory Conacher, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn and Richard Panik among others, to whom Cooper is known as a player’s coach.

As mentioned, he is well respected by players, who led both themselves and Cooper to not only an AHL league title a year ago, but also reeled off 28 consecutive victories to set a new, unprecedented professional hockey league record.

Aside from that, Cooper is reported to be an excellent motivator with strong communication skills, and often is credited with overseeing the development of the organization’s young prospects, many of whom are now excelling at the NHL level despite playing in just a small sample size of career games.

At the same token, even with many of those players now appearing in a Lightning uniform upon being recalled, Cooper nonetheless maintained a winning team even in their absence, as the Crunch entered Tuesday as the top team in the AHL’s Eastern Conference.

That, perhaps, is a credit to Cooper’s strong history of winning, as prior to joining the AHL ranks, Cooper also found success in the USHL with the Green Bay Gamblers, posting an 84-27-9 record in two seasons. Under Cooper's guidance, the Gamblers posted back-to-back seasons with the best record in the USHL and won the 2010 Clark Cup. He was rewarded with the 2009 and 2010 USHL General Manager of the Year Awards, as well as being named the 2010 USHL Coach of the Year.

“We are very pleased to introduce Jon as our head coach today,” Yzerman said in a statement released by the team. “He has had success at every level he has coached and is extremely familiar with our organization, as well as our players. He has a tremendous record at all levels and we feel he is ready to make the move to the NHL.”

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