The Prince George boy has done it.
Jon Cooper is a Stanley Cup champion.
Finally, after his Tampa Bay Lightning gutted out a 2-0 victory over the Dallas Stars to wrap up the series in six games Monday night in Edmonton, Cooper can now say he’s won a championship at every level he’s ever coached.
He claimed the ultimate hockey prize in his seventh full season as Lightning head coach and finally got to hoist that 35-pound trophy every kid who laces on a pair of hockey skates dreams about.
The 53-year-old son of Bob and Christine Cooper will eventually be bringing that Cup to Prince George, once pandemic threat ends and it’s safe to do so. Man, what a party that will be.
“We’re pretty proud of him, he’s done a good job” said Bob Cooper. “They played well, they deserve it. They’ve got a good team. (The Stars) were coming on but they were a bit short.”
Cooper phoned home and talked to his parents at their home in Prince George briefly until he was called away to a TV interview.
Christine said it was gut-wrenching watching the game.
“We’re just ecstatic,” she said. “I didn’t think they were going to win, I really didn’t. I moved to my favourite seat which is right in front of the 50-inch screen TV, not even two feet away, and I was just focused on saying keep it out, keep it out. It was a team effort and it was fabulous.”
Christine said she found a bottle of expensive champagne they never got to uncork in 2015 when the Lightning lost the Cup to Chicago in a six-game final, but they didn’t want to open in Monday night so she found a small bottle of Freixenet given to them 10 years ago at a wedding and used that to toast their son’s win.
“I just opened it and it’s still bubbly,” she laughed. “He just said, ‘Mom, can you believe it?’ It’s a pretty exciting family moment.”
The Lightning got goals from Brayden Point, on a first-period power play, and Blake Coleman, in the second period, and that’s all the offence they needed to close out the series and win the second championship in Lightning history.
The Stars came with a late rally attempt but goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and a determined bunch of shot-blockers in front of him did what they had to preserve the 22-save shutout, his first of the postseason.
Cooper is one of only seven head coach to win the Stanley Cup and the Calder Cup American Hockey League championship.
Monday’s win helps erase memories of their four-game loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the playoffs last year. Cooper said it took 511 days to exorcize those demons.
“It’s easy to talk about now,” said Cooper. “In a team sport I truly believe that failure, you have to feel it before you can have success. I guess there’s some blessed ones who don’t have to go through that. But you wear the bumps, you wear the bruises, you wear the heartache on your sleeve and it keeps you up at night. But it also drives you and it almost becomes the fear of losing becomes greater than the joy of winning, and we were not going to be denied.
“The players took it on the chin last year and I can’t be happier for those guys because they deserve it. They’ve gone through so much heartache. We were talked about as the team that can’t get it done, well we got it done and it wasn’t without failures along the way.”
Tampa defenceman Victor Hedman, who scored 10 goals in the postseason won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, edging teammate Brayden Point.
The first call Cooper made after Monday’s win was to his wife and three kids back home in Tampa. He said the best thing about the bubble was when he gets to finally leave it, after 65 days away from his family.
“I Facetimed and my son answered, Jess and JoJo and Jules and Jonny were there and actually that’s when the first tear came down my eye,” said Cooper. “That’s the toughest part about this bubble I don’t get to experience it with your family and it’s your true family who are the ones you miss.”
The Lightning will have a boat parade in Tampa on Wednesday and will later gather for a celebration at Raymond James Stadium.
“We’re going home 35 pounds heavier,” said a beaming Cooper, as he ended the press conference with the Lightning staff by his side.