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Virginia basketball failed and found redemption. Its story inspired the Stanley Cup champs.

Tampa Bay Lightning Coach Jon Cooper lifts the Stanley Cup on Monday. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

After his Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Dallas Stars to win the Stanley Cup on Monday night, Coach Jon Cooper arrived for his postgame news conference with a cap commemorating the University of Virginia men’s basketball team’s 2019 national title. It was, at first glance, a curious accessory for Cooper, a British Columbia native who graduated from Hofstra, but he would soon explain its significance.

“We used a little inspiration from the Virginia basketball team, and that hat’s been with us the whole time,” Cooper said between puffs of his victory cigar. “When you see somebody else do it, you say, ‘Why not us?’ Basically we went from the outhouse to the penthouse. That’s what happened.”

Virginia's ultimate comeback story is one we can all draw inspiration from right now

In March 2018, Virginia suffered one of the most improbable upsets in college basketball history, becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed (Maryland Baltimore County) in the NCAA men’s tournament.

Fast forward to April 2019, two weeks after the Cavaliers and Coach Tony Bennett completed their redemption story by beating Texas Tech to win the national title. The Lightning, which won the Presidents’ Trophy and tied the NHL record for wins in a regular season with 62, were swept in the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets. It wasn’t quite a No. 1 seed losing to a No. 16 seed, but it was still a crushing defeat for a team that expected to win the Stanley Cup after advancing to the Eastern Conference finals the year before.

“I acquired the hat right after we lost [to Columbus]," Cooper told ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt while wearing his Virginia cap during an interview on “SportsCenter.” “I don’t know Virginia, I don’t know Tony Bennett, but they’ve been something to hang hope on this whole time. It was a message that this hat’s been with me the whole time. It’s funny, because [Lightning forward] Nikita Kucherov just said to me, ‘Coop, where’s that hat?’ He doesn’t know college basketball from anything. I said: ‘I’ve got that hat here. I’ve had it with me all the time.’ You need something to hold on to. It was a really tough time for us last year, and like I said, they did it; why can’t we? And we did it.”

Bennett managed to turn Virginia’s historic loss to the Retrievers into a source of motivation during the 2018-19 season, which ended with the Cavaliers cutting down the nets in Minneapolis. Along the way, he occasionally referenced a quote he read that proved prophetic: “If you learn to use adversity right, it can take you to a place you couldn’t have gone any other way.” The Lightning, led by Cooper, did the same. Tampa Bay owned last year’s embarrassment, learned from it and ultimately got to where it wanted to go.

“We looked at the Virginia men’s basketball team and what happened to them,” Tampa Bay defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk told NBC after Monday’s win, “and used that as a source of inspiration.”

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