The Lawyer Turned 2x Stanley Cup Champion
The Tampa Bay Lightning won their second consecutive Stanley Cup last night, but their head coach Jon Cooper's rise to prominence might be even more impressive.
The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 last night in Game 5 to claim their second consecutive Stanley Cup. It’s the Lightning’s third championship in team history — also won in 2004 & 2020 — and they become just the ninth NHL franchise to win back-to-back Stanley Cups.
After the game, Lightning Captain Steven Stamkos said:
"It's amazing. This group has been through so much together. To do this in front of our fans and family, we didn't get a chance to do that last year. That was a huge motivation for this group: to win it again. To do it again, it's validation into history. This group accomplished something that not a lot of people thought could happen."
Even more interesting?
Their head coach Jon Cooper has one of the most amazing stories in sports.
Growing up in British Columbia as a dual citizen of the United States and Canada — his mother was American & his father was Canadian — Jon Cooper had one dream:
“I wanted my name engraved on the Stanley Cup.”
But as he got older, those dreams started to fade. Cooper was better at lacrosse than hockey, playing four years at Hofstra University, scoring 99 points (74 goals & 25 assists), and graduating in 1989 with a degree in Business Administration.
Despite being one of Hofstra’s best lacrosse players, Cooper was still notorious for checking box scores and obsessing over every NHL transaction:
"I read the sports page front to back, no matter how long it took.”
After a short stint on Wall Street, Jon Cooper decided to take the LSAT to pursue a legal career, eventually attending Thomas Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan.
Here’s where it gets interesting…
Looking for a fun way to stay in shape while attending law school, Jon Cooper joined a recreational hockey team full of local judges & lawyers. So when it came time to find a job after school, Cooper asked his hockey teammate, Judge Thomas Brennan, to help him become a public defender.
Brennan agreed, but there was one stipulation — Cooper had to coach his son’s high school hockey team. Without hesitation, Cooper accepted.
Jon Cooper spent the next few years settling speeding tickets during the day and coaching high school hockey at night.
“It was the worst team I ever coached, but the most fun I ever had.”
Cooper was instantly hooked but "just needed to find a way to get paid to do it.”
After winning a few high school championships over 5+ years, Jon Cooper was presented with a bigger opportunity — an NAHL coaching gig in Texarkana, Texas.
The team was bad, the pay was low, and he had to move 14 hours south to Texas. Still, Cooper said yes anyway.
“I’m a big ‘bet on myself’ guy.”
When he arrived, it was even worse than expected. The team played in a rodeo barn, which attracted rats and mice, while Cooper was responsible for painting the ice, selling tickets, ordering uniforms, and designing the logo.
The craziest part? Cooper still won two championships in his first four years.
Over the next 15 years, Jon Cooper made coaching stops all over the country — St. Louis, Green Bay, Norfolk & Syracuse — routinely taking the last place team at every level to a league championship within a few years.
But everything changed in 2013 when the Lightning offered Cooper their head coaching job.
His reaction: "I’ll be honest, I nearly shit myself.”
Since being named head coach in 2013, Jon Cooper has turned the Tampa Bay Lightning into a powerhouse.
Over 450 wins
7 playoff appearances
2020 & 2021 Stanley Cup Champions
Even better, despite entering the NHL at 46-years-old, Jon Cooper is now the longest-tenured coach in the league.
In the end, I love this story for one simple reason. While most people would’ve been scared to go for it, Jon Cooper followed his passion, worked his way through the ranks, didn’t make excuses, and went from a 30-year-old public defender to a 2x Stanley Cup Champion. Now that’s amazing.
Cooper’s best piece of advice? Be present.
"I'm not looking 20 years down the road, not even 5, I care about this year."
Then again, what does Jon Cooper know…he’s just another overnight success :)
Have a great day, and I’ll talk to everyone tomorrow.
Ps. If you want a deeper dive into Jon Cooper’s story, this is an awesome article that I relied on as a source for today’s email.
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Awesome! Of the 35 head coaches in the NHL this year, only Cooper and Geoff Ward didn't play hockey at a high level (pro, major junior, D1 college, etc). Good on a smart organization like the Lightning to look for talent in non-traditional places.