by Isaac Berky || AHL On The Beat Archive
“Go out to have fun,” Alain Cote remembers telling his son J.P. “I asked him from the beginning, ‘Don’t go onto the ice to do what’s easy.’”
That advice has led Syracuse Crunch defenseman Jean-Philippe Cote to 11 seasons in professional hockey, one short of Dad.
“I’m a hockey player because of him,” said J.P. of his father. “But he never pushed me. It just happened that way.”
Hockey is a family business for the Cotes. Alain Cote spent 12 seasons with the Quebec Nordiques in the WHA and NHL from 1977 to 1989, and also played in the AHL for the Hampton Gulls, Syracuse Firebirds and Rochester Americans. J.P.’s uncle, Luc Dufour, played four pro seasons between the AHL (Hershey, Fredericton and Maine) and NHL (Boston, Quebec and St. Louis) from 1982-86.
But for J.P. Cote, who has also played in the AHL for Hamilton, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Norfolk, playing professional hockey was never about following in the footsteps of his relatives.
From a young age, J.P. spent time roaming rinks and arenas with his father and becoming a fixture in the Nordiques locker room.
“My nickname was ‘The Bull,’” said Alain. “So all the guys just called him ‘Little Bull.’ He would come with me most the time on Saturdays when we would have games. Either before practice or after he would end up skating with some of the guys.”
Even though his father retired when he was seven, J.P. laughs when remembering the times he tagged along with his father.
“I’ve played with older guys and I’ve seen them bring their kids to the rink, just running around the dressing room. That was me basically 25 years ago.”
As J.P. got older and started his own career, references to Alain’s success were common.
“He definitely had pressure because there is always going to be comparisons to the father,” Alain said. “I think it helped because he was a defenseman and I was a forward. But comparisons happened.”
With an emphasis on fun, Alain helped J.P. shrug off the pressure that comes with being the son of an NHL player.
“My father wasn’t a big star but he was well known in Quebec City and the area.” J.P. said. “People knew I was his son but I didn’t let it affect me. I was just playing for fun.”
But fun alone was not enough to make J.P. a successful pro.
“I told him it’s easier to have fun when you work hard to improve your game,” said Alain. “If you go out there and you want to have fun, work as hard as you can.”
“All those years he’s been there in the background pushing me and [available] for me to ask questions, too,” said J.P.
Hockey also allowed the father-son duo time to bond.
“My dad was always involved with coaching or helping coach. He’s a really good person to just teach hockey.”
The younger Cote, like many teenagers, went through a phase where he wanted to do everything his own way. He quickly changed his mind.
“I remember specifically me and him having this argument,” said J.P. “My mind kind of switched to listening to him as opposed to trying to do it my own way — just listening to the advice he gave me. It was great.”
The advice, in Alain’s opinion, was nothing extraordinary.
“At this point he can show me more,” said Alain. “I can learn more from him than he can learn from me. He was trying to explain to me the systems Jon Cooper used in Syracuse and Norfolk and it was different.”
Monitoring J.P.’s progress from Quebec City, and occasionally traveling to watch him in person, Alain delights in his son’s ongoing career.
“I think right now he’s playing his best hockey I have ever seen him play. He has persevered, stayed in there and he won two Calder Cups (2007 with Hamilton, 2012 with Norfolk). That’s a great career. I didn’t win any Cup anywhere.”
J.P. nearly captured his third title in 2012-13 with Syracuse. After helping the Crunch to a first-place finish in the East Division with career highs of 17 points, a plus-27 rating and 143 penalty minutes, he added six points in 18 Calder Cup playoff games with a plus-15. Syracuse captured its first Eastern Conference championship, but came up two wins short of the Calder Cup.
A veteran of more than 530 games in the AHL, along with eight NHL games and two seasons in Germany, Cote started the 2013-14 campaign with the longest scoring streak of his career — six games — and leads the Crunch with a plus-6 rating.
“I’m proud, very proud of what he does,” Alain said. But the father’s admiration for his son is only surpassed by the son’s appreciation for his father.
“He’s a great person to teach the game and still is,” J.P. said. “He’s right up there with who’s influenced my career. Not only my career but my life, too.”