Head coach Jon Cooper shares photo of him with his mentor

The hockey world was dealt another blow with the news of the death of legendary college hockey coach Ron Mason. He was 76.

As an alum of Michigan State, the news came to me as a particular shock; reports have said he died suddenly. While Mason had already retired from behind the bench by the time I became a Spartan, he still had a big presence on campus as he was MSU’s athletic director.

Among the outpouring of grief and memories on social media (if you want to see some of the players Mason coached in college that went on to the NHL, head here), one stood out. That from Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper.

Somehow, I’d missed the connection that Cooper and Mason had a relationship, but I'm not surprised. In the mid to late ‘90s, Cooper was in law school in Lansing, the city that borders East Lansing where MSU’s campus is, and also coached high school hockey in Lansing, so of course the young, blossoming hockey mind would seek out a mentor in the coach who’d become the winningest coach in college hockey.

During the Lightning’s Cup run in 2015, the Chicago Tribune wrote about Cooper’s road to success and interviewed Mason about it.

"A track record like his is usually an indication a person is going to be successful each step they make," retired Michigan State coach Mason said, "so I'm not surprised."

Mason paused, then saw it a different way.

"I guess I am surprised that, bang, Jon is where he is today. To get to that state is not easy. But he has energy, intelligence and an understanding of the game from the ground up. At the NHL level, of course, it's managing the players, and that sort of thing, he is very, very good at."

Yes, Cooper is very, very good at it, but learned from the best.