Three years ago they made hockey history, can they do it again?
With a 2-0 victory over the New York Rangers tonight, the Tampa Bay Lightning advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2014. Key players in tonight’s contest should ring familiar to Norfolk Admirals fans. Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat scored both Bolts goals tonight to give them the win. In 2012, Killorn and Palat were part of a group that won 28 straight games and the Calder Cup with the Norfolk Admirals.
Not to be left out is Tyler Johnson, who is well-known to Ads fans. Based on the coverage he’s received this postseason, it’s easy to call him the breakout star of the playoffs. Including tonight’s game, Johnson has posted 21 points and 12 goals en route to the Final. Johnson leads in both categories.
Mark Barberio-who won the 2012 Eddie Shore Award, given to the league’s top defenseman-also played for the Bolts this postseason but did not figure largely into the equation. One name remains, and it’s Head Coach Jon Cooper.
Much has been made of Cooper’s unorthodox path to being bench boss, one that favored passion for the game rather than the traditional model of “average NHLer”. Cooper, as it is said, wins everywhere he goes, already with championships at the AHL and USHL level. Cooper (along with a very talented group) did more than win a championship in Norfolk; he organized a team that didn’t understand the word “loss”.
After that incredible 2012 run, Tampa Bay left Norfolk for a Syracuse. During the 2012-13 season, former Ads like Palat, Johnson, and Killorn would get their first taste of the NHL. Even more so, they made their way back to the Calder Cup Finals in togs with the words “Crunch” on them, but not winning the title (to the delight of many Admirals fans). Jon Cooper was not in that group, as he had been promoted to Head Coach in Tampa after the ousting of Guy Boucher.
Cooper returns to a league final for the first time in three years, with a mix of unheralded pros he coached, some shrewd free agent signings, and a legitimate NHL superstar in Steven Stamkos. He is primed for hockey’s biggest prize.
The 2012 group will match up against another set of Admirals alumni. We’ll find out tomorrow.