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Transcript: Jon Cooper on the struggles of last season, “I think we really grew as a group”

In a recent interview with Fox Sports Florida, Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper discusses the 2018 NHL All-Star Game coming to Tampa, his stint behind the bench for Team Canada at the IIHF World Championships, the Lightning’s performance last season, and the importance of learning from all of these experiences.

We have transcribed this interview for accessibility.

Quick Note: For the sake of clarity and fluency, I have omitted extraneous uses of the phrases, “and,” “but,” and “you know.”

All-Star Game

Rick Peckham: Coop, a huge day here talking about All-Star 2018. What do you remember from watching All-Star Games maybe growing up, maybe as a National Hockey League coach. How much are you looking forward to this happening in January?

Jon Cooper: Yeah, now it’s a little added incentive to make sure we’re in first place in the division when it’s time to be picked as a coach so I could be behind the bench. What an honor for the city. It all starts with [Lightning owner] Jeff Vinik and what he’s done.

For the NHL to recognize what a big-time hockey city Tampa has become, I couldn’t be happier. The All-Star Game is an event. It’s just not something that is taken lightly. The best players in the world get to come here and show their skills. I’m so thankful our fans are going to get to be able to watch that.

World Championships

[For context: Jon Cooper was head coach for Team Canada at the IIHF World Championships. Canada earned a silver medal while Sweden won gold.]

Peckham: You’ve been a part here, in recent weeks, of a very important showcase of skills. Tell us about your experience there and how you felt maybe this could help you down the line.

Cooper: Well, the World Championships – it was such an honor to be chosen by Team Canada. It was crushing not to make the [NHL] playoffs, but to be afforded that opportunity kind of took a little bit of the sting away. To go over there on the international stage, to be with other players from the league that you battle against, be with other coaches that you work against – just to come together as a collective group was a great learning experience for myself.

Then to watch our players out there, it made you proud as a coach to watch not only your players represent their countries, but to excel. I think Hedman was leading Sweden in ice time, Kuch [Nikita Kucherov] was leading them [Russia] in goals, you just go down the list – [Andrei] Vasilevskiy was the goaltender of the tournament. It kind of made you proud as a coach.

Cooper: Unfortunately it was a tough ending for us to go all the way to the Final and lose in a shootout. But when you’re shaking hands with Heddy [Victor Hedman] and Strals [Anton Stralman] at the end, I couldn’t have been more happy for the guys.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Peckham: Well as you get ready to dig in for next year, what do you think this experience can do for your players – the Kucherovs, the Points [Brayden Point], the Vasilevskiys – towards the Lightning’s goal for next year?

Cooper: It’s been well-documented that we were one point from making the playoffs and seeing what we could do. You look at Nashville is in the Stanley Cup Final, we had the same amount of points [in the regular season]. It just shows how important those points in October are as opposed to those same points in March.

I think we really grew as a group. It was a different year for us. I know we didn’t make the playoffs, but with a lot of the adver — I don’t want to throw that word “adversity” around — but the injuries we had, the different lineup.

There was a core group of guys there that grew. Brayden Point was one of them. Alex Killorn was another one. Jake Dotchin was another one. These guys that really helped elevate us to where we know we can be. You look back and say, “Okay, now we’re going to get a healthy Steven Stamkos back. We’ll hopefully get some of these restricted free agents signed [Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat]. You’ve got a goaltender that now has the net in Vasilevskiy.”

We’re really excited for what’s coming up here. You’ve got to get through the [Vegas Golden Knights] expansion draft and the [NHL entry] draft, but I know that when we left the World Championships, guys were really excited for the season coming up. I can’t wait to get it started.

Learning experiences

Peckham: Jon Cooper, you had a taste at the World Cup of Hockey in terms of being a coach involved in international competition at the highest level, certainly at that time. Now the World Championships. Your thoughts as far as what Jon Cooper can do on the international stage. Obviously as the head coach here, you did a great job in getting your team to where you did.

Cooper: Well when you get to the NHL you just can’t stop and say, “Well, I got to the best league in the world and that’s it.” I’m a true believer that you can always grow. Once you’ve stopped growing, then you might as well get out of the game.

At the World Cup, I was an assistant coach. It was a different situation for me to be put in, but it was one I cherished and loved. You learn from being in those situations about how assistant coaches feel when you have them. I thought I learned from that. You learn from not making the playoffs – the first time it had happened under my tenure. What could we do to help ourselves grow and get better and make the playoffs next year?

And then finally, the World Championships. Now you’re the leader of the ship and you’re working with other NHL coaches around you and other players that are great players in the league. In one full swoop of one year, I had a lot of unreal experiences that helped me grow. Now it’s my job to collectively put it all together and make us a better team next year.

Peckham: Coop, thanks very much. Enjoy the off-season.

Cooper: All right, thank you.

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