NA3HL alums begin season in the NHL
October 13, 2014
Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper got his first junior hockey head coaching gig with the Metro Jets.
As the National Hockey League (NHL) drops the puck on the 2014-15 season this past week, the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) is pleased to announce that a total of four NA3HL alumni are listed on opening night rosters of NHL clubs.
The list also includes former NA3HL head coach Jon Cooper, who enters his second full season as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Cooper’s first experience as a coach in juniors was with the Capital Centre Pride of the NAHL, where has was an assistant. At that particular time, the Pride were working closely with the Metro Jets. It so happened that Cooper was moving to the Metro area to practice law and Capital Centre needed a new assistant coach. So the head coach of the Jets at the time, Chris Werstine, moved up to the NAHL with Capital Centre, while Cooper moved to Metro in the CSHL (now NA3HL). After Jets Owner and Governor Butch Wolfe met with Cooper, he still very much wanted to coach, so he got his first shot to be a head coach with the Jets organization. He helped the team win the Hurster Cup (now the Silver Cup) in 2002 before moving back up to the NAHL to coach the expansion Texarkana Bandits in 2003.
He coached in the NAHL a total of five seasons. In 2004-05 and again in 2007-08, he was honored as the NAHL Coach of the Year. Cooper was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award last season, which recognizes the top coach in the NHL.
The list of alumni includes:
Brandon Bollig, F, Calgary Flames - Bollig grew up in St. Charles, Missouri where he started playing in the St. Peter's organization before moving to the St. Louis Amateur Blues AAA, Affton Americans CSDHL and St. Louis Jr. Blues of the then CSHL (now the NA3HL). After playing for the Jr. Blues, Bollig spent three seasons playing for the Lincoln Stars of the USHL, then two seasons at St. Lawrence University before signing his first pro contract. He was assigned to Rockford of the AHL and spent parts of the next three seasons between the AHL and NHL capping this season with a Stanley Cup win in 2013. He was traded to Calgary this past summer.
Bobby Robins, F, Boston Bruins – At 6’1/220 lbs, Robins is a tough customer who worked his way into the NHL for the first time in his career this season with the Boston Bruins. After growing up playing hockey in Wisconsin, Robins went West to play in the AWHL (now NA3HL) for the Great Falls Americans during the 2000-01 season. During that year, Robins had 44 points (22 goals, 22 assists) in 59 games for the Americans, which included 151 penalty minutes. He went onto play for the Tri-City Storm in the USHL, followed by a four-year career with UMass-Lowell in the NCAA. Since that point, Robins spent eight years in the minor leagues before making his NHL debut this past week.
Paul Stastny, F, St. Louis Blues - Former St. Louis Jr. Blues forward, Paul Stastny signed a 4-year deal in the off-season with the St. Louis Blues for $28 million. Stastny played for the Jr. Blues in the CSHL (now NA3HL) in the 2001-02 season as a 15 year old when he notched over 115 points in the season. Stastny, 28, grew up in the St. Louis area and is the son of Hall of Famer Peter Stastny. A two-time Olympian with the United States, Stastny had 25 goals and 60 points for the Avalanche last season and five goals and 10 points in seven playoff games. Stastny is a gifted play-maker who had 458 points in 538 career games for the Avalanche, who tried to retain him right until the start of free agency. More importantly, he's registered 18 points in 22 playoff games, production the Blues need in the postseason.
Joe Vitale, F, Arizona Coyotes - Former St. Louis Jr. Blues forward, Joe Vitale, signed a free agent deal with the Arizona Coyotes over the summer. Vitale spent the last 4 seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins. During the 2003-04 season, Vitale played for the Jr. Blues in the then CSHL. Vitale signed a deal that will pay him $3.35 million over the next 3 years. The Coyotes beefed up their depth at center by picking up Vitale, who spent his first four seasons with Pittsburgh. He has eight goals and 27 assists in 163 career games.