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Nerves not an issue as Cooper gets Lightning ready

by Lonnie Herman

TAMPA -- Thursday night marks the Stanley Cup Playoff coaching debut for Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Those expecting nerves to be eating away at the young coach as Game 1 of their Eastern Conference First Round series against the Montreal Canadiens approaches Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; CNBC, CBC, RDS) should think again.

"When you're really in this, you don't get to see what everyone else sees," Cooper said. "I think it's more calming to be in the fire than it is to be actually watching the fire. I'm going to go home, eat the same thing, and squeeze in a little nap. I'm not going to change anything, and then I'll come back here and try to beat a team we have played four times this year."

That sounds easy enough. But remember, the Lightning are a team populated with rookies, nine to be precise, and there are several more players who have never appeared in a Stanley Cup Playoff game. And that's why, even if Cooper was jumping out of his skin with nerves, he's not going to show it.

"Does a team take on the coach's personality?" Cooper asked. "Somewhat. There is a part of a coach's demeanor that a team will look after. I believe that if I'm just doing my same thing and I'm not on edge or being nervous, I think that helps our team. So I'm consciously trying to act that way."

And how is that calm demeanor working out for his team?

"I'm excited," rookie forward Tyler Johnson said. "There are lots of people around here, especially playing a Canadian team, but that just makes it more exciting. Now every game really does matter. As a kid growing up, you always dream about having the chance to play for the Stanley Cup."

Forward Alex Killorn said, "Once we start playing hockey we'll all be able to relax a little bit." 

That includes Cooper, who despite his earlier denial admits he expects the nerves to strike.

"The most lonely, nerve-wracking time for me, and it will happen tonight for sure," Cooper said, "Warm-ups will be going on, there will probably be eight minutes left till the warm-ups are done, you can all sit there and think of me thinking, 'Coach Cooper actually right now has his nerves starting to bubble,' because I'm usually all by myself and I'm looking for someone to talk to or at least to say something to me and there will be no one there. That'll be the one time that I sit there and you have your alone time and you start thinking about things, and you just can't wait to get going. Time slows and stands still.

"Once the puck drops, I'm sure there will be a lot of emotion. The crowd will be into it. We have a great tech group here and they'll have something awesome going on pregame. It's all the build-up. But when the puck drops we'll say, 'We got 101 points somehow. Let's not change anything that got us to this point and let's see what happens.'"

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