By: Will Burchfield
The irony to the budding rivalry between the Red Wings and Lightning is that the two team’s head coaches are longtime friends.
Ahead of their next matchup on Tuesday night in Tampa Bay (7:30, 97.1 The Ticket), Jeff Blashill took the opportunity to throw a brotherly jab at Jon Cooper.
As Wakiji later clarified, there’s no ill will between the two coaches.
Blashill and Cooper climbed the coaching ladder from the USHL to the AHL to the NHL. They crossed paths numerous along the way, developing a strong friendship in the process.
“We worked a number of USA Hockey festivals together and we coached Team Michigans together and we just really hit it off,” Jeff Blashill told MLive.com before the Wings and Lightning squared off in the first round of last year’s playoffs.
Cooper dubbed that series the “rubber match,” because each coach had notched a playoff victory over the other during their days in the junior ranks. Cooper emerged victorious in round three when the Lightning dispatched the Wings in five games.
It was the second time in as many years that Detroit and Tampa Bay had clashed in the playoffs. The Lightning won on both occasions, with last year’s series featuring plenty of bad blood. That bitterness spilled into their most recent meeting and may well bubble to the surface tonight.
Either way, it’s safe to say the friendship between Blashill and Cooper will remain intact.