Sports Hockey


Cooper and Quenneville polar opposites, but players buying in

By Mike Zeisberger, Toronto Sun



As part of the four-day convention known as Metrocon, the downtown streets of Tampa are sprinkled with people dressed up as their favourite superhero, comic book or animated character.

Maybe that’s why Jon Cooper was wondering Friday if the media thought he was Pinocchio.

Given all the gamesmanship that has been swirling around an injury to Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, Cooper was informed of the recent admission from Golden State coach Steve Kerr that he’d fibbed to the media regarding the Warriors starting lineup.

“I was curious if you have any thoughts on that — (hearing) another head coach being that honest at a press conference — and if it relates to hockey and how we handle injuries,” he was asked by a reporter after the Lightning had finished practising in nearby Brandon.

The response was vintage Cooper.

“OK, so you’re ... are you asking if I’ve lied? Is my nose growing?”

Laughter ensued. Nice job, Pinocchio.

Now, just imagine if Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville had been asked the same question under those circumstances.

Exit Pinocchio, enter Oscar The Grouch.

Surely no one would have been chuckling at Coach Q’s answer. If he bothered to give one.

He wouldn’t even need to use words. He probably would use that trademark Quenneville leer that pierces right through you and makes you want to sign up for the witness protection plan so that he’ll never find you again.

Welcome to the 2015 Stanley Cup final, otherwise known as a Tale of Two Coaches.

In the Tampa corner, you have the personable Cooper, 47, who rubs shoulders with Charles Barkley, had his group’s tab picked up by actor Vince Vaughn at a Chicago steak joint last weekend, and carries with him a swagger that makes you realize just how comfortable he is in his own skin.

Quenneville, 56, is too, but in a far different way. A far nicer man than he gets credit for, especially behind the scenes, Coach Q, as some of the players call him, is far more no nonsense, a do-it-his-way-or-the-highway type who isn’t afraid to let his guys know if they aren’t performing up to par.

In that regard, both teams are reflections of their respective coaches.

The Lightning players are young, fast and, like Cooper, feel as if they can beat anyone.

Like Quenneville, the Hawks are battle-proven, determined, business-like and have established — thanks to Cups in 2010 and 13 — that they’ve already beaten anyone and everyone.

Up until now.

Now comes the real litmus test, at least where these playoffs are concerned.

With both teams having played more than 100 games since breaking training camp at the beginning of October, the clash for hockey’s Holy Grail, deadlocked at 2-2, is down to a best two-of-three, winner-take-all clash. And when all is said and done, both the personalities and tactics of these two bench bosses will play a key role in which teams gets to hoist the Cup.

In Cooper’s case, goaltending continues to be the focus of attention. And while his public disclosure — or lack thereof — of Bishop’s injury has understandably left him open to criticism, his decision making concerning his starting goalies has been shrewd, to say the least.

In Game 3, buoyed by the word of both Bishop and the trainers, Cooper went with his No. 1 goalie, who stopped 36 of 38 shots in a 3-2 Tampa Bay victory on Monday. The efforts of an obviously ailing Bishop served as an inspirational rallying force for a Lightning team playing in the United Center, one of the most intimidating barns in all of sports.

But Cooper wasn’t scared. And neither was his team.

In Game 4, with Bishop unable to start, Cooper didn’t even dress him. By doing that, it gave the Tampa goalie five full days to receive treatment and heal by the time Game 5 arrives Saturday at the Amalie Arena.

And if he’s still not ready by Saturday, backup Vasilevskiy would already have the experience and confidence of having one Stanley Cup final game under his belt.

And Jon Cooper is all about confidence.

Vasilevskiy, 20, certainly was not at fault for the Lightning’s 2-1 loss in Game 4 and actually showed poise beyond his years. In the process, he became the youngest goalie to ever start a Stanley Cup final game since Patrick Roy did it back in the 1986 playoffs for the Habs.

The bottom line: Bishop might still play Saturday. As for the perception that he’s been lying about the entire goalie situation, Cooper addressed that too.

“OK, I’ll be truthful in this scenario,” Cooper told reporters. “This is regarding Ben Bishop or all injuries. I don’t know sitting here today if Ben Bishop is playing on Saturday. I hope he plays. I don’t know if he’s going to.

“He’s got to get back on the ice. If he’s not in the pre-game skate (Saturday), that’s a pretty good indication of whether he’s going to play or not.

“I’m a pretty truthful guy. I kind of call it how it is. I don’t feel like I’ve lied to anybody. I’ve maybe not, I don’t know, said a lot of things, or I’ve kept them inside.

“But what’s the point, eh? What’s the point of lying? Truth is going to come out anyway, so you might as well tell it when you can.”

Quenneville knows all about telling the truth. Only in a different way.

While you almost never hear Cooper be openly critical about one of his players, Quenneville can be blunt. And, more often than not, is.

After losing 4-3 in Game 2, Quenneville described the play of goalie Corey Crawford as “just OK.” In coach-speak, “just OK” is a synonym for “mediocre.”

Quenneville isn’t worried about players’ feelings. Just wins. To that end, only Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour have more in the regular season. And with two Cups under his belt and a third within his grasp, a spot in the Hall of Fame awaits him one day.

While that bushy stache and omnipresent scowl gives him that old school look, he’s very open to change. In fact, his reshuffling of lines was key in Chicago’s 2-1 win in Game 4.

Indeed, the combination of Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa scored the game’s first goal, with Toews netting his first of the series. One period later, the trio of Brad Richards, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad combined for the winner with Saad finishing things off.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that are top end guys and we don’t just look for one or two guys; I think they get some help along the way,” Quenneville said. “When you make lines, there’s a lot more options out there. Sometimes you look for balance, sometimes you look for matchups.

“At the end of the day, I think getting the other team more concerned with different guys makes us a deeper team. That’s why we say it a lot that I don’t care who scores goals. Some nights it’s the least expected guys, but generally the charge is led by our top guys.”

Both coaches certainly are still open to legitimate second guessing. Cooper’s yo-yoing of Jonathan Drouin in and out of the lineup, coupled with some limited ice time for captain Steven Stamkos early in the series, were questions that were brought up. And Quenneville’s inability to settle on the No. 5 and 6 defenceman — likely because none of the candidates have established themselves - remains an issue.

In a Stanley Cup final in which no team has had more than a one-goal lead, these two coaches are polar opposites. The common link: both their teams are buying what their coaches are selling.


Who will win Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead?

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