The Jon Cooper era officially got underway this morning at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where the Lightning ran through their first on-ice team practice of the Cooper era.
The practice was characterized by high intensity, but also included some light-hearted laughs, as well as a fun shootout drill towards the tail end of the session.
Cooper addressed the media afterwards, with a few of the highlights being:
It is no secret by now the sense of familiarity Cooper has with the younger players, but leading up to the practice ever since his hiring has been the question of how he would respond to the team’s veterans and vice versa.
Cooper said he was glad it was finally over, in regards to getting the initial jitters out of the way of course, but went on to say that the guys worked hard, asked some questions and overall responded really well.
“It was tough to come off [the ice] actually,” Cooper said. “If they bring that same energy and enthusiasm to every practice then this is going to be a good finish.”
There were, however, specifics Cooper was looking to accomplish in his first-ever practice with the club.
“We need to start in our own end,” he said. “We have to get down to our fundamentals and it starts in our own end. I’m a firm believer that if you look after things in your own end, the other end will look after itself. And what do the great teams do? They know how to play D. They were really receptive and I thought their attitudes were unreal.”
“It was a lot of fun and a lot of good drills,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “There are a few tweaks here and there [in his style] but nothing we can’t handle.”
EMPHASIS ON D
Cooper said he was somewhat unfamiliar with how the Bolts played under Boucher from having not watched every single game, so while he couldn’t compare and contrast what would be different for tomorrow’s game against the Devils, he did lay out a few parameters that fans could expect to see regarding the Lightning’s own end.
“Goals are scored in front of the net, so leaving someone open in front of the net within the defensive zone is not big with us,” Cooper said. “If it happens tomorrow, and it may, but we have to protect the front of the net.”
“That, and we have to have a man in the corners. You can push guys down low. Goals aren’t scored there, you have boards to help you play D, and eventually if we can outnumber them a bit down there, then that’s how we’re going to do it. I told the guys, when we have the puck, you are five offensive players. When you don’t have the puck, you are five defensive players. And that’s it. You’re not just a goal scorer. You have to play D.”
BACK IN THE BAY AREA
Present in Tampa Bay the past several days has been Lightning prospect Slater Koekkoek, whom the team drafted this past summer in Pittsburgh with the 10th overall pick.
Koekkoek, who is recovering from a shoulder injury, said he is in town to work with the strength coaches, as well as skating coach Barb Underhill to keep the legs fresh and to continue getting stronger.
As far as the shoulder injury, Koekkoek said, it’s “doing well” and added that it is “coming along” after it sidelined him for the majority of this season in juniors.
His plans also include returning to Tampa Bay in early April to continue working out, while also continuing his own training in Ottawa during the offseason.