Syracuse Crunch head coach Jon Cooper had no trouble owning up to the fact that he wasn’t too excited about earning his 100th victory in the American Hockey League on Wednesday night.
Perhaps, however, it came as no fault of his own.
It wasn’t until after the Crunch’s 3-0 whitewash of the Hamilton Bulldogs at Copps Coliseum that Cooper began to suspect that “something out of the norm was going on.”
As is per the usual routine following Crunch games, Cooper addressed his club with a post-game speech, congratulated several players and walked back towards the center of the room to finish off his discussion with a few concluding remarks.
Then things got weird.
“All of a sudden, one of our players stood up and approached me to congratulate me on the win,” Cooper recalled. “Before I could even react, the next thing I knew I had a shaving cream pie in my face.”
The culprit was none other than Crunch captain Mike Angelidis, and the pie, of course, was the team’s way to honor Cooper for recording his milestone coaching victory in the AHL; the one that he really didn’t even know about.
“It’s funny because as a coach you’re so focused on just winning the next game that you’re not even aware these things are going on,” Cooper added. “To be honest I didn’t even realize my situation until after the game when people started bringing it up and talking about it.”
Even so, the moment still proved to be special, and not because of what Cooper seemingly accomplished himself, but instead due to the players surrounding him in the locker room.
Many of them, including Angelidis, goaltender Dustin Tokarski, forward Tyler Johnson, defenseman Mark Barberio and a handful of others, have been with Cooper since he joined the Lightning organization as head coach of the Bolts’ top minor-league affiliate prior to the start of the 2010-11 season.
He’s an awesome leader and it truly has been a pleasure playing for him these last three years. We were all just so happy for him. - Dustin Tokarski, Goaltender
Last season, in just Cooper’s second year with the club, all of them had a hand in reeling off a professional hockey-record 28-game winning streak en route to winning the AHL’s Calder Cup Championship.
Wednesday’s victory, too, proved to be another feat tacked on to what is already a lengthy list of hockey memories for the team’s personnel.
“I’m just one of the guys who has been there with him since the beginning, but I think I can speak for all of us when I say that coach has really helped us progress as players and has made us better people,” Tokarski said. “He’s an awesome leader and it truly has been a pleasure playing for him these last three years. We were all just so happy for him.”
Cooper shared much of the same sentiment, but rather than accepting praise himself, deflected credit to those who go out and perform on his behalf each and every night.
“A lot of people look at it as a great personal accomplishment, but I didn’t want it to be about me,” Cooper said. “If anything, it’s really a tribute to the guys who are on the ice and make sacrifices for the team. They’re the ones working hard, scoring the goals, blocking shots, stopping pucks and making the great defensive plays. So, more than the 100 wins, what was really gratifying for me and what really meant a lot was that the players cared about it. There was a strange dynamic to it afterwards where they were thanking me and I was thanking them, but looking back now, it made for a really great moment.”
And if this past week serves as any indication, there will be plenty more of those.