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Lightning HC: Players won't 'even notice' empty arenas in heat of game

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Tampa Bay Lightning bench boss Jon Cooper has experience coaching hockey in an empty arena.

Cooper was the head coach of the Norfolk Admirals - the organization's former AHL affiliate - in 2012 when they were forced to play a playoff game at a neutral site without fans due to scheduling conflicts.

"The first five minutes everybody gets a shift in and there are no fans in the stands, there will probably be a little bit of sarcasm going on the bench like there is on every single NHL bench about what's going on," Cooper told's Bryan Burns. "But I'm telling you, once the banging starts and the competitive juices kick in, I don't think guys will even notice."

If the NHL is able to resume its season at some point this summer, it's highly unlikely fans will be allowed to attend games. Cooper believes the intensity among players will still be there, knowing what's at stake.

"It didn't change a thing," Cooper said of the 2012 contest. "Guys were battling it out, gaming it out. That's the only thing I can reflect on when I was a part of something like that at kind of a crucial time in the second round of the playoffs. It was still one hell of a hockey game.

"I think the guys will get over (not having fans in the stands) pretty quick knowing what's at the end of the rainbow if you keep winning those games."

The NHL abandoned its plan to hold games at non-league arenas, and Toronto and Columbus have reportedly emerged as leading contenders to serve as two of the league's host cities if play resumes. Florida Panthers president Matthew Caldwell said Wednesday the league is targeting a July return.

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