Tampa Bay, Colorado’s Road To Success Similar
While the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche's season series is a blank slate, parallels can be drawn between the two clubs and their situations.
For starters, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper and Avs head coach Patrick Roy are both in National Hockey League coaching roles for the first time this season, albeit Cooper first became acquainted with the Bolts in the final month of 2012-13.
Yet Roy has been a staple in the Avalanche organization and a part of the building blocks that brought their last Stanley Cup Championship to Colorado back in 2000-01.
"Let's just put it this way, he actually knows where to go when you're visiting a rink," Cooper said. "Whereas when I go to an arena I'm being led around by the players as to where to go."
It was a year to forget for both the Lightning and the Avalanche by the end of 2012-13. Each team sat beside the other near the bottom of the league standings with only the Florida Panthers finishing worse.
The poor performance then resulted in new coaching staffs on both fronts. Cooper replaced Guy Boucher as the Bolts' bench boss at the end of March and Roy replaced Joe Sacco in May.
Heading into this season, that did not mean instant success as far as preseason predictions were concerned. More than halfway through the season, however, the Bolts and Avs are ranked among the Top-10 for points in the league with the top two scoring rookies a part of their rosters to boot.
"Our seasons are probably mirroring each other, as well as our teams are mirroring each other in ways," Cooper said.
The same cannot be said about their path to the NHL though and, if anything, Roy may seem to have the upper hand, rubbing shoulders with League personnel long before Cooper.
"He knows some of the players a little bit better than I do," Cooper started. "Gosh I'm sure he's faced shots from some of the guys in this league."
Cooper, a lawyer turned coaching success story, had started to create some buzz among hockey circles with his continued achievements at coaching despite his lack of experience.
And the disadvantages Cooper has faced in his first full season have come from a completely different spectrum.
"I've had to lean on people a lot to cut my teeth, travel and the rigors of the schedule; he's well ahead of me on the curve in all aspects," Cooper said.
Roy on the other hand was actually a part of those hockey circles as a goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens and Avalanche in a career that spanned 19 seasons and 1,029 games that eventually earned him a bid to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
"He's a rookie NHL coach as well as myself, but he's got to experience the daily grind for a lot of years," Cooper said.
Roy's former coaches, who helped shape him into one of the best goalies the NHL has ever seen, are reflected in his coaching style, while being a bench boss in juniors was also a plus.
"I'm thankful for all the coaches I had before, they all brought something special," Roy said. "The things I've done at the junior level have also helped give me a better understanding of players and systems."
No matter the background, both coaches will face each other Saturday night as their upstart teams continue to push for a playoff spot. The way things are looking, Saturday's tilt could be the first of many meaningful contests between these two "first year" coaches.
POSSIBLE CALDER TROPHY CANDIDATES TO COMPETE SATURDAY
The similarities and contrasts between the two clubs at the coaching level trickles down to their lineup.
The first overall draft pick in the 2013 Entry Draft, Nathan MacKinnon, and the 2013 American Hockey League's Most Valuable Player, Tyler Johnson, are ranked first and second, respectively, for rookie points in the NHL.
While everyone expected to see a MacKinnon the top rookies, Johnson's name may have seemed like a long shot.
"If you're hearing rookie of the year race, you expect Nathan to be there," Cooper said. "On Johnny's side of thing, he's undrafted. The fact that he's in this conversation means he's developed into a player well beyond what anybody thought and that's a testament to him as well."
Cooper credited injuries to an increase in playing time for Johnson in all situations on the ice. Centering the team captain and a veteran in Martin St. Louis has unmistakenly been beneficial for Johnson as well.
Cooper also credited MacKinnon with performing under pressure.
"You have to give that kid a lot of credit, he's come in here and done the job," Cooper said. "Johnny's 23 and he's 18. For him to come in here and elevate his game like that it's pretty impressive."
According to Roy, they've been easing MacKinnon into his role as the next premiere player of the Avs and have been developing his defense as well as having him play all forward positions.
"We had the luxury to have great players around him," Roy said. "He started on the third line and then we moved him to the wing on the left and right side. I think it was great for him to learn all those positions.
"The defensive zone was the area we wanted to work the most with him," Roy continued. "We didn't want to touch too much on his offensive skills because he's special, he has power and is a great shooter. It was great for him to have that time to adapt and feel comfortable."
ROY'S THOUGHTS ON HIS COUNTERPART
Sitting "side-by-side" at this past draft, Roy said he's been pretty impressed with what Cooper has been able to do with the Lightning thus far.
"Seeing that team be at the top of the standings, he certainly deserves a lot of credit for what's been going on," Roy said. "Especially when they lost their best player in Stamkos, it's been pretty impressive to see how they've dealt with that and have kept performing."