TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning named Jon Cooper the eighth head coach in franchise history today, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced. Cooper joins the Lightning after having spent the previous three seasons behind the bench of Tampa Bay’s top minor league affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals from 2010-12 and this season with the Syracuse Crunch, compiling a 133-62-26 (.661) record in 221 AHL games. Cooper will coach his first game for the Lightning on Friday night versus the New Jersey Devils. Effective immediately, Syracuse assistant Rob Zettler takes over as the head coach of the Crunch while Martin Raymond will join Zettler as an assistant. Dan Lacroix and Steve Thomas will remain behind the bench for tomorrow night’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, then continuing as Cooper’s assistants with the Lightning.
“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.”
“There is no other team in hockey that I would rather be coaching than the Tampa Bay Lightning,” said Cooper upon accepting the position. “It’s quite a tribute to Steve Yzerman, 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.”
Cooper, 45, was awarded the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the AHL’s top coach last season after guiding the Admirals to the Calder Cup Championship. He led Norfolk to a 94-44-18 record in the regular season and a 17-7 mark in the playoffs during two seasons behind the bench. In 2011-12 the Cooper-led Admirals set franchise records with 55 wins and 113 points en route to the franchise’s first Calder Cup Championship. Along the way Cooper and his team set a North American professional sports record, winning a remarkable 28 consecutive games. That season Norfolk earned the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the AHL’s regular season points champion, while also capturing the league’s East Division title.
This season Cooper has led the Crunch to a 39-18-8 record, the best in the AHL, despite a number of key players being recalled to the Lightning. Syracuse’s 218 goals are also the most in the league. Of the Bolts’ current roster, 10 players have played for the Crunch this season, already giving Cooper familiarity with a number of players. Cooper has also run the Lightning’s development camps during his time in the organization.
Before joining the AHL ranks, Cooper also found success in the USHL with the Green Bay Gamblers, posting an 84-27-9 record in two seasons. Under Cooper’s guidance the Gamblers posted back-to-back seasons with the best record in the USHL and won the 2010 Clark Cup. In 2008-09, Cooper’s first season, Green Bay saw a 50-point improvement from the previous year, setting a USHL record for largest single-season improvement. He was rewarded with the 2009 and 2010 USHL General Manager of the Year Awards, as well as being named the 2010 USHL Coach of the Year.
A native of Prince, George, British Columbia, Cooper played high school hockey at Notre Dame in Wilcox, Saskatchewan. He then moved on to Hofstra University, where he played four seasons of division I lacrosse. Cooper also played one season on Hofstra’s hockey team. He then went on to earn a law degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan, eventually closing his practice in 2003 to pursue a career in coaching.