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Cooper’s Track Record, Balanced Approach Bodes Well for AHL Admirals

In a summer that has been, at the very least, stabilizing (if not downright successful) for the Tampa Bay Lightning, the vast majority of those taking notice of the work done throughout the organization have come away impressed – including the club’s latest addition, Jon Cooper, announced yesterday as head coach of the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals.

“The whole thing that drew me to (the club),” Cooper said, “Was the (positive) attitude and the people they’ve brought in.”

Now, included in that very group, Cooper is well aware of some fortunate timing for the two sides to come together.

“I wanted to go the AHL at some point,” explained Cooper, who leaves his post as head coach and general manager of the United States Hockey League’s Green Bay Gamblers. “I just probably didn’t think it was going to be right this second.”

But now that making that jump is indeed a reality for Cooper, his excitement and enthusiasm cannot be tempered and he gives his new bosses credit for finding him in their search.

“I give (Lightning GM Steve Yzerman and Norfolk GM Julien BriseBois) a ton of credit. They were looking for candidates and they did their homework on guys that fit something specific that they wanted,” he said. “I don’t think they knew it was going to be me but I think my name came up to them on a couple of occasions and, they did their due diligence.”

“I walked out of (the interview) and was like, ‘I want to work for these guys’,” Cooper added, noting the well-respected reputations of both Yzerman and BriseBois.

Tampa Bay brass may not have had Cooper in the crosshairs right away (as the Admirals’ new bench boss himself alluded) but his fit with the Lightning franchise, like so many others already this off-season, seems to him to have an element of destiny to it.

“I would say the stars aligned and we found each other.”

What Cooper brings to the table, much like new Lightning head coach Guy Boucher, is a pattern of success through several organizations. He led the NAHL’s St. Louis Bandits to two consecutive championships and was twice named that league’s coach of the year before moving on to Green Bay, a job he called “one of the greatest in the US”, where he helped the Gamblers to the largest single season improvement in USHL history.

That type of turnaround in Norfolk, after last season’s tumultuous fall from grace amid multiple coaching changes, would be most welcome but Cooper acknowledges a need for stability and a new direction there, first and foremost.

“They had some veteran guys on the team last year that have played in the NHL,” he said, recognizing Ryan Craig, Mitch Fritz, Adam Hall and Mark Parrish by name, specifically. “I think they had a good core but, with some of those guys gone now, it’s sort of a fresh start.”

Immediate success, to a certain extent, should be attainable for Cooper, with an Ads roster that should include the likes of Dustin Tokarski in net, Juraj Simek, a 21 goal-scorer in 2009-10, at forward and AHL veterans Vladimir Mihalik and Ty Wishart on the blue line and could very well include young guns Richard Panik and James Wright (and perhaps others) as well.

“Some of these kids,” Cooper said, “Have played and won. I like the fact that some of these kids have won World Junior gold medals and been in some winning environments. I’m hoping they bring that winning culture to us. There are guys that are stable, good leaders, team guys… I’m looking forward to meshing this whole team together.”

That’s a challenge for any coach, bringing a club together, but a coach in the American League, where player development is equally as important as winning, has an added workload on his hands. Still, Cooper’s previous experience tells him that, to that end, one hand tends to wash the other.

“There are different stages of development,” he offered. “Whether it’s mental maturity, or physical drills on the ice, you can gauge a whole bunch of things on what is really considered development but, in the end, when you win, I think that’s the ultimate developer. Because people migrate towards winners and they want winners on their team.”

Cooper’s approach to coaching at the next level won’t entail much differentiation from what has brought him to this point, as he looks to maintain a balanced emphasis on grooming Tampa Bay’s prospects and winning hockey games with a simple formula.

“Every team is different but the one thing that is the same everywhere you go is that, if your players play with passion and they compete all the time and you make it tough for other teams to play against you, you’re going to have some sort of success. I always find that, if you can create that culture, it gets contagious.”

Regarding Boucher, Cooper echoed the sentiments of many, calling him “a great hire” by Yzerman and added that he will definitely be consulting with him on coaching principles and strategy, to stay on the same page.

“One of the first things I said when I was offered the job was, ‘Can I get Guy Boucher’s phone number?’ because I wanted to talk to him and, when I did, I couldn’t have been more impressed. I don’t think either one of us is going to change our styles to fit each other but I believe, especially being the head coach of the affiliate team, that I have to make it as easy as possible for a player to go from Norfolk to Tampa and, if that requires me to take upon some if his principles, then I have to do it. I think it’s just part of my job description.”

Still, don’t expect the Admirals and Lightning to be exact on-ice mirror images of each other, as Boucher and Cooper won’t necessarily be doing things identically at all levels.

“I don’t think we’re going to sit here and say we’re going to play exactly alike because we’re two different people and we’ve both had success doing it our own ways but I’d be remiss to say that I wasn’t going to go and meet with him and try and implement some of his things. Plus, when kids are called up, it will be easier for them.”

One thing that Boucher and Cooper will have in common, however, is a dedicated approach to improving their clubs on a daily basis.

And having that type of commitment at the two highest levels of the organization bodes well for the Lightning of the present as well as the future.

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Filed in: NHL Teams, Tampa Bay Lightning, Non-NHL Hockey, Minor League, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: adam+hall, ahl, carter+ashton, dustin+tokarski, green+bay+gamblers, guy+boucher, james+wright, jon+cooper, julien+brisebois, juraj+simek, mark+parrish, mitch+fritz, nahl, norfolk+admirals, richard+panik, ryan+craig, st.+louis+bandits, steve+yzerman, ty+wishart, ushl, vladimir+mihalik


SYF's avatar

That type of turnaround in Norfolk, after last season’s tumultuous fall from grace amid multiple coaching changes, would be most welcome but Cooper acknowledges a need for stability and a new direction there, first and foremost.

Sounds like a recurring theme throughout the TBL organization from Vinik to Yzerman and now Cooper at the AHL level.  What about the ECHL affiliation, the Everblades, JJ?  Are they all set there, too?

Posted by SYF from impossible and oddly communally possessive sluts on 08/11/10 at 05:59 PM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

They’re set as in the affiliation, yeah, but no personnel moves have been announced just yet.

It’s a natural fit, obviously but we all await the return of pro hockey to Orlando for the most natural of all possible Florida cities for a feeder system to the Lightning. (Sources tell me that is VERY possible, beginning in the 2011-12 season, something I’m keeping very close tabs on.)


Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 08/11/10 at 06:20 PM ET

Primis's avatar

The Everblades will have a new coach this year in Greg Poss.  He has only coached overseas, and who knows what system(s) he’ll implement.

Florida has traditionally been a playoff team and recently always a Kelly Cup contender.  But with a new coach, and with possible financial woes and tryign to sell the Everblades and Arena, I don’t know if they’ll spend as freely as they have been.  WIth that in mind, I don’t know if any prospects sent down will have quite as high a caliber of players aroudn them as the past several years.

Yzerman’s effforts won’t show in Norfolk for another year or two.

Posted by Primis on 08/11/10 at 06:26 PM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

Norfolk would have made the playoffs last season, were it not for Brian Lawton’s big coaching mixup goof. (Hell, maybe the Lightning would have hung in there a bit longer as well, had that very same move not been made.)

I expect the Ads to make a run at the postseason this year for sure.

As for the Everblades, good to know. I admit that I’m not quite up to speed on that franchise (just yet).


Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 08/11/10 at 09:00 PM ET

Primis's avatar

Norfolk had a bunch of NHLers on the team last year.  I don’t know that they’ll have quite that same depth this year.  And the guys Yzerman drafted won’t be showing up for another year or two.

I’ve only been following the ECHL in-depth for a year or so now.  Florida was always a preseason favorite for the Cup, but they always got knocked out of the playoffs early under their previous coach, who has a rep for being a great regular season coach and a lousy playoff coach.

Posted by Primis on 08/11/10 at 11:26 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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