The Detroit News’s Mark Falkner tells a semi-Wings-related story regarding Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper’s ties to an underachieving Lansing-based hockey team that he coached all the way to a high school championship:
They were as different as two teams could be, separated by 20 years.
In 2000, the “Bad News Bears” of hockey, a patchwork group of high school hockey players in East Lansing won a regional tile coached by future Stanley Cup champion Jon Cooper, who went on to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to the NHL title in 2020.
However, Cooper’s two teams 20 years apart had more in common than meets the eye and taught valuable lessons on how to build championship-caliber teams, according to retired Michigan District Court judge Thomas Brennan Jr.
Brennan needed someone to coach his son’s team at Lansing Catholic Central and Cooper, a Michigan lawyer who had never coached before and was handling Brennan’s court-appointed work for $1,000/month to represent clients who couldn’t afford legal fees, agreed to take over the team which won only 7 of 24 games the year before.
Cooper led the freshman-dominated Cougars to its first regional hockey title in 25 years, highlighted by Jeff Swan’s winning goal with 36 seconds left in the first overtime period to beat Mattawan 3-2 in the Division III final at Southside Arena in Grand Rapids.