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Tampa Bay Lightning

If practice is sign, Lightning will be loose under Cooper

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Published:   |   Updated: March 29, 2013 at 07:13 PM
TAMPA -

Defense first.

That's the area new Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper wanted to concentrate on during his first on-ice session with his team. He added in some breakouts and zone entries followed by a shootout competition and some work on the power play.

But it's in the team's own end where Cooper wants to concentrate his early focus, to start instilling the habits he wants to see night after night.

“We are going to put in our game plan in how we are going to have to play and other teams are going to have to adjust to us,'' Cooper said. “Obviously we will tweak depending on the other team's tendencies, but we have to get into position where we are playing the same way every game. … I know it sounds boring, but if winning is boring then I want to be bored.''

The practices, however, are far from mundane as there was plenty of enthusiasm Thursday, not to mention smiles and laughter. First during the shootout competition, then as the team gathered at center ice for stretching.

The first practice ended as Nate Thompson helped rookie Ondrej Palat celebrate his 22nd birthday with a surprise shaving cream pie that left Palat in need of a towel and left his blue practice jersey streaked in white and his visor covered with foam.

All in all, it left a positive vibe as the Cooper era officially begins when he makes his debut behind the bench for tonight's home game against New Jersey.

“I was actually really looking forward to the practice and getting out there with the guys, and it was fun. I had a lot of fun,'' Cooper said. “There are a lot of really good guys out there. They worked hard. And I'm sure with a new coach here they are trying to impress, but they were asking all the right questions. They worked hard and it was a lot of fun.''

Ensuring that there are a lot of light moments is something Cooper likes to sprinkle in to practice so it's not all work, work, work.

“I think that's important, and that's life, isn't it? If you are not going to laugh then you are wasting it,'' Cooper said. “I'm a big believer in you only live once so you might as well have fun doing it.''

That was the general feeling from the players, as well, especially for those who were getting their first impression of their new head coach.

“I was impressed. He knows what he wants and we obviously knew a little bit of what to expect, but he keeps it very simple,'' center Steven Stamkos said. “(The) practice was great, it was up-tempo, nothing complicated. … Hopefully we can build off that.''

With any new coach who comes in, there are going to be some changes. And for the Lightning, expect to see some differences in the team's defensive structure. It is expected to look similar to how the team has played in the past two games in which at least one defenseman is camped out in front of the net at all times.

“I don't think he's coming in (to change a lot). I think it's going to be baby steps,'' alternate captain Marty St. Louis said. “But I like his approach. He's very positive and constructive. I think everybody is excited and we are gearing up for this one game (tonight) and we'll go from there.''

For those who have been with Cooper before, the first practice with the Lightning was business as usual.

“I don't think this was anything different than what I would have expected,'' center Tyler Johnson said. “He's an easygoing guy, likes to have fun and I think the guys were really excited, energetic and motivated. I felt like we got quite a few things done, learned a few things and hopefully we can just continue to do that.''


eerlendsson@tampatrib.com

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Twitter: @erlendssonTBO

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