by Doug Cortese | AHL On The Beat
Four years after J.P. Cote last laced up for the Syracuse Crunch, he is back on the ice with the organization in a new role.
The Tampa Bay Lightning hired Cote, 37, as the new director of player development this past offseason after Stacy Roest was promoted to assistant general manager for the Tampa Bay Lightning and general manager for the Crunch. In this role, Cote works individually with Lightning prospects both on and off the ice and helps track their progress through collegiate, junior and minor league teams.
Although the two had not worked together before this season, Crunch head coach Ben Groulx feels Cote is the right man for the job.
“He played in this organization, he won at this level,” said Groulx. “I think he knows exactly what it takes to play in the NHL.”
Cote appeared in 27 NHL games with the Lightning and Montreal Canadians during his 15-year professional career, but the Quebec City native was also a veteran of 623 AHL contests. In that span, Cote put up over 100 career points and claimed Calder Cup championships with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2007 and the Norfolk Admirals in 2012.
A year later, he returned to the Calder Cup Finals, this time with the Crunch after the Lightning moved their affiliate to Syracuse prior to the 2012-13 season. Cote ranked third among AHL defensemen during that year with a plus-27 rating in the regular season. His leadership on the ice was just as important as his leadership within the room.
Crunch chief operating officer Jim Sarosy says Cote was part of a core group of players that changed the Crunch’s culture.
“It was a defining moment for our organization, and he was front and center on that,” Sarosy said of Cote and the veteran leaders Tampa Bay brought into Syracuse. “They taught those around them that winning is a process.”
Now serving as a mentor, Cote hopes to help players reach their goals while developing prospects into professional players.
“I’m getting to know the players and trying to establish a line of communication,” said Cote.
After retiring as a player following the 2017-18 season, Cote spent a year as a professional and amateur scout with the San Jose Sharks before coming back to the Lightning organization and the city of Syracuse where he spent three seasons from 2012 to 2015.
“To be back in the family is awesome,” said Cote. “My son was born in Syracuse. I had some of my best years of hockey there. It just feels like home.”
Cote says the Lightning offer people he can lean on, such as former Crunch and current Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. He sees familiar faces around the building, and as a former player, knows how to best help young skaters develop on and off the ice.
Sarosy says he’s always respected Cote for who he is as a person and believes he can pass those skills down to other players.
“He’s teaching these young players how to become a professional,” Sarosy said. “His style of play definitely fit in well in Syracuse. You hear the phrase ‘blue-collar’ and J.P. at that point in his career was a lunch-pail type of player.”
While Cote may no longer be laying hard hits on game day, he is still a valuable part behind the scenes. Groulx says he tries to use the knowledge and experience of former players and believes Cote is maximizing his potential in his new position.
“With everything he’s got, I think he made the best out of his talent,” said Groulx.
Cote says he’s excited for his new role in an organization that is consistently around the top of the league. Just as the Lightning gave Cote the opportunity to develop his game and get back up to NHL, it’s now allowing him to learn how to be an integral member of the hockey operations team.
“It’s a good atmosphere for me to start in.”