Veteran Cote 'Invaluable' for Crunch

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Jean-Philippe Cote has changed in many ways since his brief stint in the National Hockey League seven years ago.

The defenseman's experience since has helped show him how to do his job better, and he might be even a little faster. But he knows his chances of a call-up have likely passed.

"Obviously, there's that dream still, but I do know my role," Cote said. "I know, compared to maybe five years ago, I'm not the next guy on the list (of guys being called-up)."

Instead, the 30-year-old has embraced his new purpose – being a leader and mentor on and off the ice for some of the Tampa Bay Lightning's top prospects with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch.

"Working with those younger guys is something I take a lot of pride in," Cote said. "When they come back to me and thank me for anything with their development, I am happy with that."

Crunch head coach Jon Cooper called Cote's services "invaluable," and praised the two-time Calder Cup champion's ability to be a calming influence on the ice and in the lockerroom.

"He's a guy who's been around the block and has played a few games in the NHL," Cooper said. "He's seen it all and done it all. You can't have enough of those guys around."

The AHL rules say otherwise.

With a limited number of veteran spots on each roster, the 6-2, 213-pound blueliner knows he has to come to play every night – not only to lead by example, but to stay in the lineup.

"Every single game I've got to show up and really step up to the task that I'm asked," Cote said. "I can't take a night off. I'm trying to be as much of a leader on the ice as I am off the ice."

Cote has almost always worn a letter on his sweater, dating back to his time in juniors.

While playing for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, the Quebec native was drafted in the ninth round by the Toronto Maple Leafs, but never suited up for the organization.

Instead, Cote began his professional career with the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Montreal Canadiens' affiliate, where he spent most of his first five years and won his first Calder Cup.

After a one-year stint in the Penguins organization, Cote departed for a pair of years in Germany. He returned to North America in 2011, and after 10 games in the ECHL, was given another chance by the Norfolk Admirals, the Lightning's AHL affiliate last season.

Cote won his second Calder Cup with the Admirals, and with the Lightning moving its affiliate to Syracuse, he was signed by the Crunch to a two-year contract.

Cote still looks back on the players that helped mold him, whether it was former Tampa Bay Lightning Gordie Dwyer, a veteran while Cote was a rookie in Hamilton, or Cote’s father, Alain, who played for more than a decade in the pros.

"I like to pick his brain with some of the things they were doing or things we were doing," Cote said of his father. "He's probably the biggest influence for me, that's for sure."

Although spending the bulk of his career with the Quebec Nordiques, the elder Cote had brief stints in the minor leagues with the Hampton Gulls, not far from Norfolk, and the Syracuse Firebirds.

Cote said his father visits to watch some of his games and remembers playing in the Onondaga County War Memorial himself.

"I didn't know that about him five years ago…It's just funny how things go," he said.

Cote may not come close to his fathers' nearly 700 NHL games, but that doesn't mean his career hasn't been successful. He is proud of what he has been able to accomplish so far.

"I really hope, from the eyes of the other guys, they see me as a leader, and as a winner most of all," he said, "And somebody who is very competitive in every aspect of the game."