Years from now, when people talk about the 2020 Stanley Cup final, Chris Cooper will be one of the few who can say he was there to witness it.
Cooper arrived in Edmonton with his wife Elaine on Friday and watched the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars play back-to-back games Friday and Saturday nights. Unfortunately for the Prince George native, whose brother Jon is head coach of the Lightning, the Bolts were unable to wrap up the series in Game 5 Saturday and will have wait until Monday for another chance to hoist the Stanley Cup. Tampa still leads the best-of-seven series 3-2.
“We’re very privileged, We have the best of both worlds,” said Chris. “We’re living the dream and we don’t have to be in the bubble so we can do what we want and we get to go to the games. We’re very lucky.
“It’s very strange in the same sense because there’s no fans and you can hear everything, like everything. You hear what the players are saying. When (Tampa defenceman Kevin) Shattenkirk scored the overtime winner the other night he did an interview after the game and we were yelling, ‘Way to go Shatty,’ and he looked up where we were in the second level and raised his hand. We’re cheering as loud as we can and I think everybody can hear it.”
Chris sat through Saturday’s nailbiter which the Lightning lost 5-4 on a goal by Stars veteran Corey Perry, 9:23 into the second overtime period. During the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast the cameras focused on the Jon Cooper cheering section and found Chris for some TV time, prompting a flood of text messages.
“All everybody could say was, ‘Pull your mask up,’” laughed Chris. “It’s a lot of fun, it’s just really weird.
“It’s a beautiful arena and we have full menus, full everything. They gave us a chef special menu. It’s bizarre. We have to pay for it all but we’re pretty well taken care of.”
Chris and Elaine are there for the rest of the series with Scott Kirschke of Prince George and his girlfriend Andrea Legault. Chris lives in Vancouver and he and Kirschke are partners in a company – Canadian Towers and Fibreoptics – which specializes in building cell phone towers in Mexico.
“In our family we call Scott number 3 – Jon is number 1 or I’m number 1 or 2, depending who’s been a good boy,” said Chris.
Chris just turned 50 and is three years younger than Jon. Their parents, Christine and Bob, started Cooper Construction, a successful general contracting business, and still live in the same Prince George neighbourhood in which the boys were raised. Each player or coach is allowed to invite up to seven guests to attend the games and Mr. and Mrs. Cooper would have been there if not for the pandemic, which makes travel complicated and risky.
The Cooper contingent sits on the second level of Rogers Place next to the media area and they have full concession service in a rink that seats 18,500, among only 30 or 40 spectators. Chris’s seat is right next to that of his friend, Tom Gagliardi, the billionaire owner of the Stars, who is there with his wife and children. Their friendship was made when Chris coached one of Gagliardi sons in hockey in Vancouver.
Some of the players’ family members are part of the team bubble and they are allowed to see each other before and after the games but must remain at the rink and during games they are confined to one of the suites. Chris hasn’t seen Jon, other than behind the bench.
“I talked to Jon in the first week of the bubble (when he was in Toronto) and it was like, ‘It’s pretty cool,’ but literally four days later it was like, ‘This is going to be a long haul.’ He’s missed his anniversary, his kid’s birthday, his kid’s hockey tournament, his kid made the swimming team. You don’t think about that stuff when you’re watching but it’s got to kill anybody, I couldn’t imagine being away from family that long. That’s more than 60 days.”
Both Jon and Chris left Prince George when they were 14 and in his Grade 10 year Chris attended private school at Shawnigan Lake School on Vancouver Island, where his dad Bob was a successful student/athlete. Jon’s private school choice was Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Sask.
“When we were young my parents said we could go to any private school you want, but in Grade 10 you’re going to private school,” said Chris. “My brother chose Notre Dame and when it was my turn I could go anywhere I wanted, as long as it was Shawnigan. It was awesome and we were very fortunate our parents were able to do that for us.”
While Jon excelled in hockey and lacrosse as a kid in Prince George, Chris became a ski racer as a member of the Prince George Alpine Ski Team. The Cooper boys grew up as best friends and remain that way.
“We’re very proud of him, but he’s still my brother,” said Chris. “I’ve taken my licks.
“We live so far away and we have a great group of friends – his friends are my friends and my friends are his friends and we all have fun.”
Monday’s game starts at 5 p.m. PT. If Game 7 is need it will be played on Wednesday.
“I’m hoping they can wrap it (on Monday),” said Chris. “I don’t have much hair and I keep losing it. Any more of these overtime games and I’m going to lose it all.”