Jon Cooper is fascinating.
The British Columbia native has a law degree, played college lacrosse at Hofstra University and has coached his teams to championships at every level. Now he’s trying to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to the franchise’s second Stanley Cup championship.
After the Chicago Blackhawks tied the series up at two all in Game 4, Cooper and the Lightning are looking to rebound, bolstered by home-ice advantage in the now best-of-three Finals.
Here’s what you need to know about the most interesting man in the NHL:
1. He Has a Law Degree & Served as a Public Defender
After graduating from Hofstra with a degree in business administration, Cooper went on to spend a short period of time working on Wall Street before earning his law degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan.
During his time at law school, Cooper couldn’t quite stay away from athletics. He joined an adult rec league called the “Legal Eagles” and connected with District Court judge Thomas Brennan, Jr. who would eventually offer him his first job. Cooper was contracted to do court-appointed work and served as a public defender in the Lansing area.
2. He Played College Lacrosse at Hofstra University
Although he wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school – for any sport – Cooper played four years of college lacrosse at Hofstra in the late 1980’s. Cooper was a standout during his four years in Hempstead, recording 74 goals and 25 assists. He was also part of the East Coast Conference championship teams as a junior and a senior.
When Cooper graduated in 1989 he was ranked fifth-all time in the program’s goal-scoring history and his 99 total points ranked him ninth.
Former Hofstra coach, and now three-time national champion at Duke, John Danowski discussed Cooper’s lax career with the NY Daily News:
He was from western Canada and had very, very little field lacrosse experience. His background was in hockey, of course, and he was an indoor lacrosse player. … But he transitioned really quickly. He was an attackman at first, but then we moved him to midfield. By the time he reached those third and fourth years, he developed into a really good, solid player
3. Cooper Started Coaching Hockey While Still Practicing Law in Michigan
Although he found success in the law field, Cooper could never quite shake that hockey bug. He was, once again, given an opportunity by Brennan whose son was playing goalie at Lansing Catholic Central High school and whose team had an opening for a new head coach; Cooper took the job.
Cooper told USA Hockey:
I found there is a definite common area [between] hockey [and law]. I got comfortable speaking to groups. You’re sitting there talking to 20 players in the locker room and you’re trying to convince them how to play, what you want done. It’s no different than convincing a jury.
Cooper led the team to a berth in the state quarterfinals and used the moment as a springboard to other coaching opportunities. Soon, the St. Louis Bandits, a squad out of the North American Hockey League, were calling and Cooper never looked back.
4. He Has Won League Championships With His Previous Three Teams
Cooper quickly found he had a knack for coaching hockey, despite never playing any higher than with a run-of-the-mill high school program. He coached the St. Louis Bandits for two seasons and won back-to-back NAHL championships before moving on to the Green Bay Gamblers in the United States Hockey League in 2008. He recorded an overall 84-27-9 record with the Gamblers and won the Clark Cup in 2010.
Then came the AHL.
In 2010 the Tampa Bay Lightning organization hired Cooper to coach the Norfolk Admirals, the team’s AHL affiliate. He led the Admirals to the Calder Cup in the 2011-12 season and was named the league’s most outstanding coach. Cooper then moved to the Syracuse Crunch in the 2012-13 season and posted a 39-18-3-5 record with the team before being promoted, somewhat surprisingly, to the NHL.
5. Cooper Was Named Tampa Bay Coach in March 2013
No one in the hockey world was surprised when the Lightning fired their coach, Guy Boucher, in the middle of a dismal season in 2013. What did surprise people was that the Lightning named Cooper the eighth head coach in franchise history.
Cooper was named the Tampa Bay coach on March 25, 2013 and took over in the middle of the season with 10 players on the then-current roster who had already played for him in the AHL.
Two years after he was initially named the Lightning’s coach, and in his second full season with the team, Cooper posted the NHL’s fifth-best regular season record and one of the most potent offensive fronts in the entire league.