Jon Cooper couldn’t bring the Stanley Cup back to Prince George even after he won it last year.
The pandemic made it impossible.
But this time, there’s nothing but a Montreal miracle that will prevent that.
Cooper, the 53-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning head coach, is one win away from hoisting that silver chalice over his head again, just as he did last September in Edmonton, where the Lightning beat the Dallas Stars in Game 6 of the 2020 final.
Tampa has a stranglehold on the Montreal Canadiens this time around, leading the best-of-seven final 3-0 with a chance to wrap it up tonight in Game 4 in Montreal.
Cooper has always been proud of his Prince George roots. He grew up in the Spruceland subdivision in the house where his dad Bob still resides. His mother Christine passed away after a lengthy illness on Nov. 6, two months after she watched the Lightning win the second Stanley Cup in their franchise history.
It’s not hard to find a Montreal Canadiens fan in Prince George and lot of hockey fans in the city would be ecstatic to have the Cup remain in Canada for the first time since the Habs claimed it in 1993. Montreal goalie Carey Price is one of the most popular players on the team and the native of Anahim Lake (just 556 kilometres southwest of Prince George) has a huge following in central B.C.
But it’s not looking good for him or the Habs.
Just four teams in NHL history have come back from 3-0 deficits to win a series and it’s only happened once in the final, when the Toronto Maple Leafs came back to beat the Detroit Red Wings for the Cup in 1942.
With Cooper behind the bench, having joined the team with 17 games left in the 2012-13 season, the Lightning have made winning a habit. He’s won 383 of the 633 regular season NHL games he’s coached for a .647 winning percentage, second only to Scotty Bowman among coaches with at least 410 career games.
“He’s just got a great way of communicating things in layman’s terms, not trying to get too caught up in analyzing things,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh told Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano. “You guys hear enough of him in the media, he’s got good quote after good quote (and) analogies and trying to put things in perspective. It’s no different with our group. You can paint a picture black-and-white and be pretty specific and analyze things, but he does a great job of keeping that message positive and keeping the message coming in different directions.
“We know he’s going to set our team up for success when he’s breaking things down X’s and O’s. Ninety percent of the time though, it’s about our attitude and mindset.”
In his nine seasons Cooper has taken Tampa to the final twice, they’ve reached the semifinal round twice and he’s missed the playoffs just two times. He just knows how to win.
That started when he was working as a lawyer in Michigan and his boss wanted him to coach his kid’s midget team. They went on to win a national championship that year and championships kept coming Cooper’s way in the NAHL (St. Louis Bandits, 2009 and 2010), USHL (Green Bay Gamblers, 2010) and AHL Norfolk Admirals, 2011).
“He’s confident, and that’s something that has always spilled over to the teams he’s coached,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. “Probably why a lot of them have gone on to become champions, including ourselves. He expects everyone in the room to do their job. The accountability is huge from the coaching staff to the players, and from the players to the players.
“But at the same time, he wants guys to do what they’re best at and be confident doing that.”
Monday game starts at 5 p.m. PT. If Game 5 is needed it would be played Wednesday in Tampa, with Game 6 scheduled for Friday in Montreal and a Game 7 (if needed) next Sunday in Tampa.
— Prince George Citizen