The toughest speech Jon Cooper has ever given his Lightning team was the first one.
It was 10 years ago today, just after the Lightning won their first game after head coach Guy Boucher was fired. Cooper, who had led the team’s AHL affiliate, Norfolk, to a Calder Cup the season before, flew in that afternoon and watched from a suite.
Assistant general manager Julien BriseBois had picked Cooper up from the airport. He tried to keep things light, joking how the travel, the food — everything — would be better in the NHL. “You’ll drive a better car,” he said. As Cooper pulled up to Amalie Arena, it finally sank in.
“Wow, this is really happening.”
The press conference he gave the local media before the game was a breeze. He told them he wanted his team to be a blend between the bruising 1970s Flyers and high-flying 1980s Oilers. But Cooper was more nervous about the postgame talk with players.
The dressing room was packed for it, with players either in their suits or postgame workout clothes and sitting in their stalls. The training, equipment and hockey ops staff also squeezed in.
Cooper had given intro speeches a half-dozen times in previous stops, from his first coaching job at a high school in Lansing, Mich., to teams in Texarkana, Green Bay, Wis., and Norfolk, Va. But this was different. These weren’t kids. It was future Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis. Captain Vinny Lecavalier. Future cornerstones Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman.