DETROIT (AP) — Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper left Wall Street to be a lawyer, planning to eventually become a sports agent.
To make ends meet as an attorney, he made $1,500 a month to handle cases for financially strapped clients in the middle of Michigan. Cooper’s charm and communication skills helped him cut deals for defendants while quickly processing a lot of people in and out of the state district court.
Then, Cooper got a call in the fall of 1999 from the judge who often saw him do his day job and knew he was a pretty good hockey player.
“I said, ‘Jon, do you want to coach my son’s high school hockey team at Lansing Catholic?’” retired judge Thomas Brennan recalled in a telephone interview Monday. “He said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that.’ And, Jon absolutely flourished because you could tell he really enjoyed doing it.”
Cooper progressed to coaching junior hockey, then in the minor leagues, and eventually took over Tampa Bay’s American Hockey League affiliate in Norfolk in 2010. Then, nearly three years ago, the former securities trader and public defender was hired by Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman to lead Tampa Bay.
“Sometimes I look at it like, ‘Geez, how did you end up a National Hockey League coach after that fork in the road?’” Cooper said. “I never dreamt, thought or set a goal to say I’m going to coach in the NHL. It was just my passion for coaching. I loved it so much and I kept going from team to team and all the sudden, I ended up on the top of the ladder.”
One of his good friends, Detroit coach Jeff Blashill, is hoping to knock Cooper down a rung Tuesday night.
Blashill, a rookie coach in the league, made home ice an advantage in Game 3. He used the last change to put a trio of fast and physical forwards on the ice to match up with Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson-led line that dominated Detroit in the first two games of the series.
It worked, helping the Red Wings blank Tampa Bay 2-0 and cut their deficit to 2-1 in the first-round series.
Before the series and during it, Blashill has jabbed at his buddy on the other bench.
“Must have been a bad lawyer,” Blashill cracked last week when asked about Cooper’s journey to the NHL, before saying he thought it was a great story.
A reporter asked Blashill on Monday what would fluster Cooper.
“I could talk about his clothing options, for sure,” he said with a grin. “That would really rile him.”
The truth is, a series-evening setback might rattle Cooper and the Lighting because it would put the defending Eastern Conference champions suddenly in a closely contested series without a pair of key players, Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman, because of injuries.
Game 4 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night in Detroit (7 p.m. EDT, NBCSN).
Here’s a look at the other action on the schedule:
Penguins at Rangers, series tied 1-1, 7 p.m. EDT, USA
Pittsburgh and New York are both hoping a key player is at least closer to getting back in the lineup. Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury practiced on Monday, taking another step as he recovers from a concussion on March 31. Jeff Zatkoff has been in net and played well in the opener, but didn’t get much help in front of him during a 4-2 loss in Game 2.
“To me it’s frustrating to not play and still be talking about it,” Fleury said. “It’s tough. It feels (like) forever.”
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was coy about his choice for a Game 3 starter, though he praised Zatkoff for “being great for us.”
The Rangers seem to have a slim chance at getting captain Ryan McDonagh on the ice for Game 3. He practiced Monday for the first time since an upper-body injury during the final week of the season knocked him out of the lineup. The defenseman skated during the practice that lasted a little less than an hour. McDonagh was not made available to the media.
Blues at Blackhawks, St. Louis leads 2-1, 9:30 p.m. EDT, NBCSN
Chicago is counting on its past to overcome an early deficit in the present against St. Louis, which has won two games by a goal.
“You always want to draw on that experience that we’ve had in the past where we’ve been in situations before when we’ve been trailing and we’ve been able to find a way,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “Anytime you can draw on that experience I think it’s a good thing and we’re going to try to do that again in this series. It’s all about executing in the moment and now.”
The defending Stanley Cup champions have scored only one goal in an even-strength situation.
Chicago gives Blues goaltender Brian Elliott some credit for that fact, and accepts some blame for not converting on more 5-on-5 chances.
“We need to put some of those pucks in the net,” said forward Andrew Ladd, who doesn’t have a point in three playoff games this year. “But at the same time I think we’re comfortable with the opportunities that we’re creating.”
Ducks at Predators, Nashville leads 2-0, 9:30 p.m. EDT, USA
Nashville has never been in this spot before. Anaheim has, and it doesn’t have fond memories.
This is the seventh time the Ducks have trailed 0-2 in the postseason, and they’ve lost the first six series in the same situation. Now, the Pacific Division champions head to Nashville against a team that isn’t cocky about its chances.
“We all realize that winning games out there doesn’t do any good if you don’t win more,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “I think the guys are over it, past it and looking forward to getting back into our building with our fans.”
The Ducks have never dug out of an 0-2 hole, but this season’s team did claw back after an abysmal start to the season. Goaltenders John Gibson and Frederik Andersen helped the franchise win the Jennings Trophy for the first time for giving up the fewest goals a game.
AP Sports Writers Will Graves, Tom Canavan, Greg Beacham and Teresa M. Walker and freelance writer Scott Powers contributed to this report.
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