By Lizette Robles
Hockey can be a “ruff” sport. That was especially true on Jan. 9 when the Tampa Bay Lightning’s team practice went to the dogs … literally. It was the day when Cooper met Bolt.
Cooper is a 4-year-old golden retriever and a therapy dog at Moffitt Cancer Center. Bolt is a 10-month-old yellow lab and the Lightning’s team ambassador from Southeastern Guide Dogs.
The two pups, both true hockey fans, were destined to become fast friends. Cooper’s American Kennel Club registered name is “Eagleridge BE THE THUNDER.” His parents, Linda and Craig Nowicke, named him after Lightning head coach Jon Cooper.
“When we decided to get a puppy, I let Craig choose the name. Without hesitation, we quickly agreed on Cooper,” said Linda Nowicke. “We are huge Lightning fans and were season ticket holders for years.”
Linda dreamed of volunteering at Moffitt.
“When someone you love gets cancer treatment at Moffitt, it quickly becomes clear that the cancer center is a very special place, with very special people and I wanted to be a part of it,” she said. “My mom, mother-in-law and my grandfathers all died from cancer. My dad was also successfully treated at Moffitt for prostate cancer. I wanted an opportunity to help families who are going through the same journey my family has been through.”
In August 2017, she and Cooper became Moffitt volunteers. The duo has logged over 700 service hours through the pet therapy program, visiting more than 1,200 patient rooms during their tenure.
“Cooper seems to have an innate sense of which patients need more hugs and longer visits. I’m just on the other end of the leash and follow his lead,” explained Linda.
The Nowickes visited Amalie Arena to attend a morning skate with the team. When pup Coop had the opportunity to meet his namesake Coach Coop, he jumped at the chance. Coach took his new furry friend into the media room to join him for a press conference after practice. With a big smile, Coach Cooper asked the press corps to direct their questions to fur baby Cooper. The proud pup took his spokesman duties very seriously and was a big hit with reporters.
Current and former Lightning players, including Victor Hedman, Anthony Cirelli, Dave Andreychuk, and Brian Bradley, stopped to meet the precious pooch. The Lightning went on to beat the Arizona Coyotes that night 4-0, no doubt thanks to sweet Cooper and his buddy Bolt!
“Being invited to have Cooper meet Bolt at the arena was amazing! It’s an experience we will never forget. Meeting Coach Cooper and some of the players was an absolute thrill. The Tampa Bay Lightning organization made us feel like royalty,” said Linda.
Moffitt Cancer Center offers pet therapy certification in partnership with Project PUP. Sessions are held every other month on Saturday mornings at Moffitt’s Magnolia campus. More than 50 pups from the pet therapy program help bring comfort and smiles to Moffitt patients every day. Learn more about pet therapy volunteer opportunities at Moffitt.org/pettherapy.