Jon Cooper, who got his junior hockey head coaching start in the NA3HL (formerly the CSHL when he broke into coaching), was named the new head coach of the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. Cooper, who was also a former two-time NAHL Coach of the Year, got his start as a head coach with the Metro Jets back in 2002.
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 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.
Wolfe had the following to say regarding Cooper… “Jon Cooper is a smart coach who is able to establish a great rapport with his players. We still communicate on occasion and I wish him great success with Tampa Bay.”
Cooper began his NAHL coaching career with the Texarkana Bandits in the 2003-04 season. 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. Over the course of his 10-year coaching career, five of those seasons were spent coaching and developing in the NAHL.
In his first three seasons in Texarkana, Cooper’s teams got better each season. By the time the franchise has moved to St. Louis in 2006-07, Cooper had developed the Bandits into a Robertson Cup contender. During the 2006-07 season, the Bandits and Cooper finally realized their dream and won the Robertson Cup. The next season, the Bandits and Cooper did it again.
Following that season, Cooper moved onto coach Green Bay in the USHL before moving up to the American Hockey League, where he had been for the last 2+ seasons.
Cooper had been coaching Syracuse of the American Hockey League this season, Tampa Bay's top minor league affiliate. He is replacing Guy Boucher, who was fired Sunday after 2 1/2 years with the team.
"He has had success at every level he has coached and is extremely familiar with our organization, as well as our players," Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman said in a statement. "He has a tremendous record at all levels and we feel he is ready to make the move to the NHL."
The Lightning, at 13-18-1, are in next to last place in the Eastern Conference and appear headed to missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Cooper will coach his first game for the Lightning on Friday night against the New Jersey Devils.
"There is no other team in hockey that I would rather be coaching than the Tampa Bay Lightning," Cooper said in a statement. "It's quite a tribute to Steve Yzerman, (owner) Jeff Vinik and the organization they are building that they are proud to promote from within. I look forward to getting to know the players and getting to work right away."