(Tampa) In Tampa, everyone remembers the Martin St-Louis scoring goals, but Jon Cooper remembers another Martin St-Louis.
Posted at 12:30 p.m.
“I remember the guy getting into endless ping-pong matches with our video editor,” he says. He was so competitive that he never wanted to quit, and he had to be told to quit because he had a hockey game to play in the evening! But that was him, and I’m not surprised what happened to him; I’m just surprised it happened so fast! »
We are in the corridor of the Amalie Arena in Tampa on this small Friday. A little further from us, in the heights, we can see the number 26 of Martin St-Louis which is hung, an honor that only one other player, Vincent Lecavalier, shares with him here.
Jon Cooper led St. Louis for nearly two seasons in Tampa, and he hasn’t forgotten the man the players nicknamed Reggie. As in Reggie Dunlop, famous player-coach played by Paul Newman in the film Slapshot.
That’s why Jon Cooper isn’t so surprised at Martin St-Louis’ new life.
“It was the players who gave him the nickname Reggie,” he adds. I remember the player he was, but also the character; he was the one who was going to hide in the stick bags to come out screaming and scare the guys… because he was the only one capable of getting into a stick bag.
“I can’t say that I knew beyond doubt that he was going to coach in this league one day… but I felt like it was going to happen. I knew that after his career, he was going to want to lead his children’s teams… but I didn’t know that was going to lead him to the NHL! »
Arriving at the helm of the Lightning in March 2013, Jon Cooper quickly found a strong ally in Martin St-Louis, who already thought a bit like a coach.
“I had never managed elsewhere in the NHL when I arrived here, adds Cooper, and I was trying to understand things. There were guys who played for their stats, but he always worked very hard. I’m not saying that to anyone. As a new coach, it was a luxury to be able to bet on a guy like that, because everyone wanted to follow him. Also, he asked questions, always, all the time. He was very good with my team… and then it was the end. »
That bit remains a bit of a mystery around here. Why did Martin St-Louis want to leave the Lightning – he joined the New York Rangers in March 2014 – so abruptly? After all these years, there are still plenty of theories, including a rift between him and then-general manager Steve Yzerman.
But all of that is in the past. In any case, it’s a thing of the past in the eyes of Jon Cooper, who intends to take a few minutes of his time to go see Reggie before Saturday night’s game against the Canadiens, here in Tampa Bay.
“You can see he’s leading this team in the right direction,” added the Lightning driver. The Canadiens are working harder now; at the game in Carolina [jeudi soir], the club was down three goals, but outshot 14-2 in the third period… The Canadiens never give up, and that shows one thing: what Martin is doing with this team is working. »
So no, Jon Cooper is not so surprised to see that his former star player has swapped the jersey for the jacket behind a bench. In his eyes, it had to happen. “Because people with passion are successful,” he adds. And Martin has always had a lot of passion…”