When Barry Trotz’s Washington Capitals ousted John Cooper’s Tampa Bay Lightning on their way to the Stanley Cup in 2018, the two coaches talked that summer about how it all went down.
Similar conversations took place last time after Trotz went through the New York Islanders to win the Cup for Cooper and Lightning.
“(We) talked about our teams and what we did well against each other, what we didn’t,” Cooper said. “You don’t usually get that with a ton of coaches, but Barry is a very open guy and for the most part I think I am too, and we’re not afraid to share stuff with each other.”
They share the experience of attending the same Canadian prep school in a small Saskatchewan town (several years apart), but Trotz is a hockey lifer and Cooper was a lawyer before switching businesses. Vegas coach Peter DeBoer and Montreal’s Dominic Ducharme have very different levels of NHL experience but each came from junior hockey.
The four coaches left in the playoffs have meaningful ties but all took different paths to get to the point – victories just a few times unfurling hockey’s holy grail.
“I’m always looking at other guys and trying to take in as many as I can everywhere,” said Ducharm, the quartet’s least experienced as a midseason replacement when the Canadiens fired Claude Julian. “(Coaching) is just about dealing with people. (players are) older, more experienced, the dialogue may be different, but the goals and methods of doing it remain the same. “
The similarities between the coaches facing each other in the semi-finals are striking. Cooper and Trotz beam with pride about playing for the Notre Dame Hounds, while DeBoer and Ducharm have bonded over the coaching in the Canadian Hockey League and the World Junior staff with Canada.
Even though DeBoer is now on his fourth team in the NHL in 12 years, he and Ducharme have talked about what they have in common and swapped some ideas along the way.
“One thing about the two of us coming together is that you have to learn to teach and communicate: If you coach junior hockey for an extended period, I was about 15, and I think Dom Was at least 10 years old, you’re dealing with young kids, and the message has to be simple and straightforward and it has to get to the point,” DeBoer said. “Those are tools when you go into the NHL. that you take with you. I have great respect for people who pay their dues along the way, and he is one of those people.
Trotz certainly paid his dues before getting his first NHL major job with the expansion Nashville in 1998, scouting as an assistant at the University of Manitoba and moving to the American Hockey League.
Cooper was still practicing law at the time. It was not until 1999 that he moved to full-time coaching at the high school level, and like Trotz, climbed the ladder through the AHL until Tampa Bay promoted him in 2013.
“He’s an excellent coach,” Trotz said of Cooper. “I think with John, his path is a little different, obviously. He was a lawyer and was also coaching hockey and I must say, had to make a life decision or a career decision and he has chosen well Obviously, he can always go back to the law if he decides never to coach.
Don’t expect that any time soon, after leading the Lightning to the championship last season and leading the deep, talented team to another final. Tampa Bay is the polar opposite of Montreal, which would not have made the playoffs if it were not for Ducharme, who has fans throughout the NHL.
“I know what a good coach he is,” said Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon, who worked with Ducharm on the Canadian staff at the 2016 World Junior Tournament. “I have followed his career ever since. I was very excited for him to have the opportunity with the Canadiens and was not surprised by the impact he had.”
Ducharme and the Canadiens are a surprising contender, but Vegas is not. DeBoer has taken two other teams to the finals – New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016 – but is looking for his first title, which will tie Trotz and Cooper. All four coaches are candidates for Canada’s Olympic staff in Beijing next winter.
This will only strengthen their connection in a coaching fraternity that is already very close.
“I have the utmost respect for Barry,” Cooper said. “Taking aside all the coaching stuff, X’s and O’s and all that stuff, you have respect for the good guys and Barry’s for the good guys.”
AP Hockey writer John Vavro and freelance reporter WG Ramirez contributed.
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