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World Cup

Jon Cooper OK with missing start of camp

Coach says Lightning are in capable hands with Rick Bowness, Todd Richards while he's at World Cup

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL -- Like many taking part in the World Cup of Hockey 2016, Jon Cooper will miss the start of his NHL team's training camp this month.

But the Tampa Bay Lightning coach said he will sleep well knowing they will be in good hands until he finishes his work as a Team North America assistant and returns to his day job in Florida.

"I'm extremely fortunate to be head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, but time-wise, I'm the least experienced on our bench," Cooper said Wednesday before Team North America headed to Quebec City for its pretournament game against Team Europe on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN, TVA Sports). "I've got [associate coach] Rick Bowness on one side of me and [assistant] Todd Richards on the other. They've been head coaches on multiple teams in this league, so I'm pretty fortunate that I've got that kind of brain trust to run things for me in Tampa.

"Had I been a rookie coach coming into the NHL, and I'm not so sure I'd be in the World Cup if that were the case, I'd be a little more nervous not being at the start of our camp. But our staff and, more importantly, our team has been together."

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Indeed, Bowness has been behind NHL benches for 2,000-plus games over more than 25 years, almost a quarter of those games as a head coach; Richards has more than 400 games of experience as an NHL head coach.

When he does settle back into his NHL work, with a combined 309 regular-season and Stanley Cup Playoff games as Tampa's coach, Cooper has a brilliant core to continue the Lightning's pursuit of the Stanley Cup; they lost in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Cup Final and in seven games to the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final last season.

Among those returning after a busy offseason in Tampa are: captain Steven Stamkos, who signed an eight-year contract to remain in Tampa; cornerstone defenseman Victor Hedman, who agreed to an eight-year extension; forward Alex Killorn, who re-signed for seven years; and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who agreed to a three-year extension.

"Our standards and expectations have been set already," Cooper said. "Guys know what they expect. We had a big summer with Stamkos and Hedman and Killorn re-signing. The band's back together, and that's just how we wanted it. It's upward and onward from here."

Cooper said "there's definitely a comfort level" for him that comes with those players seeing enough potential in the Lightning to buy in with long-term contracts.

"Not only are some of the best players in the world signing back with our team, they're committed just the way ownership, management, coaches and now players are committed for the common goal," he said. "That's what you want. We've been together long enough that guys had decisions to make and they could have gone elsewhere. But they didn't. They chose to stay, and that makes you pretty happy as a coach."

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