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Lightning coach Jon Cooper's road to the NHL

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Lightning coach Jon Cooper played more lacrosse than hockey during his time at Hofstra.Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Lightning coach Jon Cooper played more lacrosse than hockey during his time at Hofstra.

Jon Cooper’s road to the NHL is as remarkable and as unorthodox as they come.

The coach of the Lightning played four years of varsity lacrosse and a year of club hockey at Hofstra and graduated in 1989 with a degree in business administration.

“I did not recruit Jon, but when I got the job, Jon was a freshman, so he was there for my first four years,” John Danowski, the former head lacrosse coach at Hofstra and now a three-time national champion at Duke University, told the Daily News by phone on Thursday. “He was from western Canada and had very, very little field lacrosse experience. His background was in hockey, of course, and he was an indoor lacrosse player. … But he transitioned really quickly. He was an attackman at first, but then we moved him to midfield. By the time he reached those third and fourth years, he developed into a really good, solid player.”

“He was a guy that everybody on the team loved,” Danowski continued. “He was very even-keeled. Extremely bright. Terrific student … No matter what field he was going to choose, he was going to be successful.”

Cooper would leave a brief career on Wall Street, graduate from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich., and pass the bar on his first try. His first foray into coaching would come at the high school level as a favor to a local judge. Feeling the itch, Cooper left his practice and gradually climbed the ladder with various coaching jobs across the country — from Texarkana to Green Bay to Syracuse — in the NAHL, USHL and the AHL. Almost everywhere he went, he won.

Then in March of 2013, he was offered his dream job by Tampa GMr Steve Yzerman.

“I’m amazed by his commitment and what he did to get to where he is,” Danowski said. “Coaching in Texarkana, Arkansas, Texas, or whatever it is. Driving two hours to practice when the rodeo comes to town, having road games in Las Vegas and Anchorage, Alaska, that’s going to test your commitment to your profession. Moving to Green Bay, Wisconsin. Those aren’t easy things to bring a wife and family around. But it just shows you his level of commitment and the way he works. You’ve got to be committed first.”

In just his second full season as an NHL head coach, Cooper is only four wins away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final. Standing in his way are the Rangers, who Danowski — born in Bronxville — admired as a kid. But the coach of the Blue Devils can’t bring himself to root for the Blueshirts in this series. Not with Cooper behind the other bench.

“I guess we are,” Danowski said of his family. “We’re huge Tampa fans right now.”

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