Track record earns Cooper promotion

TAMPA, Fla. – During his playing days, Steve Yzerman had a reputation as being a player with a lightning quick shot. Monday he proved he is just as quick as a vice president and general manager.

Syracuse coach Jon Cooper was tabbed to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday (Photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Lightning)

Syracuse coach Jon Cooper was tabbed to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday (Photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Lightning)

Monday evening, Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning announced that Jon Cooper, the coach of the Lightning’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse, has been chosen as the Bolts new head coach. He will officially replace Guy Boucher, who was fired Sunday morning, when the Lightning face the New Jersey Devils on Friday.

“We are very pleased to introduce Jon as our head coach today,” Yzerman said. “He has had success at every level he has coached and is extremely familiar with our organization, as well as our players. He has a tremendous record at all levels and we feel he is ready to make the move to the NHL.”

With Cooper moving up, Syracuse assistant coach Rob Zettler will take over the head coaching duties for the Crunch. Bolts assistant coach Martin Raymond will be shifted from Tampa to Syracuse to assist Zettler. Current Tampa assistant coaches Dan Lacroix and Steve Thomas will run the Lightning bench Tuesday night against Buffalo before becoming Cooper’s assistants.

Cooper, a native of Prince George, British Columbia, was the most logical choice to take over the reigns of the parent club. In his three years at the helm of the Lightning’s top affiliate, he has been a success. Hired by Yzerman in 2010, Cooper led the Norfolk Admirals to a 39-26-15 record in 2010-2011. That was just the beginning.

A year ago, Cooper too the Admirals on a record-breaking ride. Norfolk posted franchise marks in wins (55) and points (113) on the way to winning the Macgregor Kilpatrick trophy as the AHL best team in the regular season. Along the way, the Admirals also set a North American professional record with 28 consecutive wins. It all culminated with Norfolk winning the 2012 Calder Cup championship. For his efforts, Cooper won the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial award as the best coach in the AHL.

When the Lightning and Anaheim traded affiliate cities, Cooper took his talents and his Admirals players to Syracuse. Despite a slew of call-ups, Cooper had the Crunch atop the AHL standings with a 39-18-8 record and an offense that led the league with 218 goals scored. Overall, Cooper’s coaching mark with the Lightning organization sits at 94-44-18 in the regular season and 17-7 in the playoffs.

Along the way, Cooper has helped mold some of Tampa’s top prospects such as Cory Conacher, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat into players the Lightning have relied on this season. In all, Cooper will come into a locker room that boasts ten players who played for him in Syracuse during the 2012-2013 campaign.

Cooper’s success in the AHL was just the latest example of his coaching skills. At the junior level, he guided the NAHL St. Louis Bandits to back-to-back Robertson Cup titles in 2007 and 2008. In those two years with the Bandits, he compiled a 90-23-7 record. He then moved to the USHL where his Green Bay Gamblers went 84-27-9 in two seasons. Cooper’s 2008-2009 Gamblers squad set a USHL record for largest single-season improvement, earning him General Manager of the Year honors. He took home the top G.M. award again in 2010 as well as Coach of the Year honors as the Gamblers won the Clark Cup.

“There is no other team in hockey that I would rather be coaching than the Tampa Bay Lightning,” Cooper said after accepting the promotion. “It’s quite a tribute to Steve Yzerman and Jeff Vinik (Lightning owner) and the organization they are building that are proud to promote from within. I look forward to getting to know the players and getting to work right away.”

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