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New bench boss wants to turn Bolts into playoff contenders

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TAMPA, Fla. -- New Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper is ready to get to work.

The 45-year-old Cooper talked about his plans for the team shortly before the Lightning hosted the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday.

The Lightning stumbled to a 13-18-1 record under former coach Guy Boucher and entered Tuesday in 14th place in the Eastern Conference.

Despite the record, Cooper says he will come in and work toward earning a playoff berth.

"Until the final buzzer goes in the last game of the season, I'm coming here to make the playoffs," Cooper said. "I probably shouldn't say this out loud but when (Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman) offered me the job I said, 'Are you sure you want to do this? Because if you do this I'm going to try to screw up your draft (spot).' "

When Cooper takes his spot behind the bench Friday night against the New Jersey Devils, he will see several familiar faces as 10 players on the roster played under him with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch this season.

"There's a certain type of swagger with the teams I've coached and you have to have that to win," Cooper said. "I think a big reason I've had a lot of success in the past is that we've all believed in each other. Nobody strayed from the course."

Cooper has been successful in the minor leagues. In seven years of coaching in the minors, his teams have won four championships.

He leaves the Crunch with an AHL-best record of 39-18-8. He was awarded the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the AHL's top coach last season after guiding the Norfolk Admirals to the Calder Cup. He was 133-62-26 in his three AHL seasons.

"All I ask is that we play hard and we're hard to play against," Cooper said. "Whether you play 26 minutes a night or four minutes or you score 60 goals or have 60 fights. We're all in this together. When the fans leave the rink they are going to be proud of our team."

Cooper attended Hofstra University where he played hockey and lacrosse.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 27, 2013 C4

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