When Oilers interim Head Coach Todd Nelson glances over to the Tampa Bay Lightning bench during tonight’s game, he’ll see a former American Hockey League colleague guiding the opposing squad in Jon Cooper.
Nelson and Cooper share quite a few similarities. Both grew up in small Western Canadian cities (Nelson in Prince Albert, SK and Cooper in Prince George, BC). Both have worked their way up through the minor league coaching ranks, and both were mid-season NHL head coaching replacements.
Cooper guided the AHL's Norfolk Admirals and Syracuse Crunch from 2010 to 2013, while Nelson was bench boss of the Oklahoma City Barons. He took the reins of the Lightning in March 2013 when Guy Boucher was relieved of his duties and proceeded to lead the team to a 101-point 2013-14 campaign. Tampa Bay is also off to a strong start this year with a 27-14-4 record.
Many of the prospects Cooper coached in the AHL have turned into impact players with the NHL club, like Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Brett Connolly. Nelson said his goal is to enjoy similar success with the Oilers and see some of the guys he’s helped develop in OKC grow into NHL regulars.
“Jon’s done a fantastic job here,” Nelson said. “He has his team playing well. They’re an explosive team. It’s a situation where I'm going to relish the fact that we get to coach against each other. Hopefully in the future, we as an Oilers team can accomplish what Tampa Bay is accomplishing right now.”