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AHL coach offers incentive for P.G. travelers

Jon Cooper has put the offer out to the people of Prince George. Show up in Norfolk, Va., this hockey season with proof that you're from P.G. and he'll set you up with some free tickets.

Jon Cooper has put the offer out to the people of Prince George.

Show up in Norfolk, Va., this hockey season with proof that you're from P.G. and he'll set you up with some free tickets.

Cooper has that goodwill for his hometown connections well within his authority, now that he's been hired as head coach of the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League.

"Whatever it takes to fill the building," laughed Cooper. "If they can prove Prince George residency I'll give everybody involved free tickets.

"The hockey world's a small world and I'm just proud because I never made it as a player, and Prince George has always been a great hockey town. I run into Larry Bernard all the time, he's an NHL scout (from P.G.), and we always wait for the next Prince George guy to come up."

The Tampa Bay/Norfolk organization already has some P.G. player connections.

Ty Wishart and Dana Tyrell, both former Prince George Cougars, played last season in Norfolk. The Lightning thought highly enough of 18-year-old Cougar winger Brett Connolly to pick him sixth overall in the 2010 NHL entry draft, the highest-ever draft pick from the Prince George Minor Hockey Association.

All three players plan to attend the Lightning camp this September. If none of them are ready to make the jump, Cooper will most likely be coaching Wishart and Tyrell, but there is no chance he will be Connolly's coach this season. NHL rules stipulate players aged 19 years-or-younger are not allowed to be sent to the minors. If Connolly is released from the Lightning camp he would be returned to the Cougars.

"It's great for me for me to get a chance to not only coach some of the guys who played in Prince George but to watch a kid like Connolly, who came up his whole life through the Prince George Minor Hockey system and be a first-round draft pick," Cooper said.

For more, see Friday's Citizen