AHL grads help Lightning strike again

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning captured their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship on Wednesday night, with American Hockey League graduates leading the way again.

Ross Colton, who began the season with the Syracuse Crunch, scored the only goal in the Lightning’s Cup-clinching 1-0 victory, while Conn Smythe Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy made 22 saves for his fifth shutout of the playoffs.

Colton and Vasilevskiy were among 11 players in the Game 5 lineup who came through Syracuse, the Lightning’s AHL affiliate since 2012. (A 12th, three-time Stanley Cup winner Patrick Maroon, skated for the Crunch when they were an Anaheim Ducks affiliate.)

Jon Cooper became the second head coach ever to win multiple Stanley Cups to go with a Calder Cup title; Fred Shero won an AHL title as coach of the Buffalo Bisons in 1970 before leading the Philadelphia Flyers to Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975.

Cooper spent nearly three years coaching the Lightning’s AHL affiliate before his promotion to Tampa Bay in 2013. He won the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding coach in 2011-12, the year he led the Norfolk Admirals to a Calder Cup championship with a team that included Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat.

Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois reached three Calder Cup Finals and won the 2012 title while serving as GM of Tampa Bay’s AHL operations. Assistant coaches Rob Zettler, Jeff Halpern and Derek Lalonde are graduates of AHL benches as well.

Other AHL alumni who lifted the Stanley Cup include NHL playoff scoring leader Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde, Anthony Cirelli, Barclay Goodrow, Ryan McDonagh, Blake Coleman, David Savard, Mathieu Joseph, Erik Cernak, Jan Rutta and Curtis McElhinney.

Nearly 90 percent of all players in the National Hockey League are graduates of the American Hockey League, with nearly 300 players skating in both leagues during the 2020-21 season alone.