Cooper masterminded Bolts’ turnaround

by Gary Shelton on May 4, 2018 · 4 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

For Cooper, things are always looking up./JEFFREY S. KING

For Cooper, things are always looking up./JEFFREY S. KING

Friday, 4 a.m.

His face is Andrei Vasilevskiy's. The eyes gaze ahead, missing nothing but giving nothing away. Like Vasilevskiy, there is a fire burning inside, but darned if you can see the smoke.

His voice is Steven Stamkos'. Always calm, always analytical. Maybe there are times he wants to snap, but he hides those times for when he is alone with his team. Nothing seems to rattle him, little seems to upset him.

His demeanor is Victor Hedman's. He is reliable, trusted. He shows up every night to do his job, to make sure there is balance on the ice. Maybe this guy needs pushing. Maybe that guy needs pleading. Always, there is a way to get the job done.

Say this for Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper. He is a coach for his team. He does not rant the way John Tortorella did. He does not

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steam they way that Terry Crisp did. He ventures outside the box, but unlike Guy Boucher, he doss not live there.

On the other hand, he trusts. He believes in his roster. He is confident that it will find a way ... and if not, he will show them.

He is the best the Lightning has ever had, you know. Yes, John Tortorella won the. Cup, and Cooper hasn't, which is no small thing. But Cooper has more wins, and he's won more playoff series.

Cooper is the Lightning's answer to Tony Dungy of the Bucs, to Joe Maddon of the Rays. He is outwardly placid, so much so that outsiders think that there are times he is too calm.

On the other hand, his Lightning are up two games to one in this playoff series.

Frankly, Cooper has a lot to do with it.

Oh, he's been good often enough, hasn't he? His teams have made the playoffs four of his five seasons, and they've won some big series. Remember beating the Rangers 4-3 in Game Seven on the road in 2014? Remember beating the Red Wings 4-3 the same year?  If you judge simply by winning the Cup, then Cooper is still searching. But it should be said that he is very, very good.

We all grew up in an era where coaches screamed, and if they lost, they screamed louder. Followed by more screaming. But Cooper has a more tranquil approach. He has raised much of the core of his team. He thinks they're good enough.

Take this series against Boston. After one goal, we were all ready to bid the Bolts goodnight after they lost Game One at home. But Cooper make a few tweaks, and  in the right places, he didn't make a few tweaks. And the Bolts came out with two of their more physical games of the season to take the series lead.

Pull Brayden Point? No. Cooper has seen too much from Point this season. At a time it was fashionable to lose faith in Point, he did not.

Then again, how often in his five seasons have you seen Cooper throw a guy under the bus? That's not his way. He might reduce playing time here or there, and he might shuffle lines, but he's one of those coaches who sees no profit in publicly scolding a player. Not to satisfy the fans, not when that player may help you win the next night.

Odd that he would give up one courtroom for another. Yet, there is Cooper, behind the bench, pleading his case.

Look, the top-level of the Bolts is better than any sports team in Tampa Bay. Would you swap anyone else for Jeff Vinik, the owner? Or for Steve Yzerman, the general manager. Or, for that matter, for Cooper the coach?

He has gone thought a playoffs where he lost Ben Bishop. He has gone through one when Marty St. Louis switched teams. Pittsburgh beat him a conference final. Chicago beat him in a Stanley Cup final. But it took some doing both years.

And, now, the Bolts lead 2-1. They're a hard team to play when they have the series lead. The Bruins are good, but so too is Cooper's club.

He works the gum. He stares intently. He leads.

Frankly, how many other hockey coaches would you prefer?

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