''Ryan is probably a little embarrassed of what's gone on. He made a poor decision, getting behind the wheel when he had alcohol in his system,'' Cooper said before Tampa Bay beat the Washington Capitals 1-0 in a shootout Sunday to close the regular season.
''But for me, I've watched all the good decisions Ryan Malone's made in his life, and how charitable he's been and what a staple he's been in our community in the years he's been here,'' Cooper added. ''I hope this one instance doesn't take away from that, because he's been a class act for us, on and off the ice.''
Malone didn't travel with the team to Washington. It isn't yet known what his status for the playoffs will be. Tampa Bay will host the Montreal Canadiens in the first round, with Game 1 scheduled for Wednesday.
An officer saw Malone's SUV strike a curb after making a left turn from the center lane in the early hours of Saturday, Tampa Police Lt. Paul Lusczynski said. After being pulled over, Malone got out of his vehicle, and the officer smelled alcohol on his breath, Lusczynski said. According to the police report, the officer found 1.3 grams of cocaine in one of Malone's pockets.
''We talked about it as a team yesterday, and it's a real unfortunate thing, but I don't think it was really on too many guys' minds here today with the ... stakes of this game,'' Matthew Carle said after scoring the only goal in Sunday's shootout.
Malone refused to take field sobriety tests, but a breath test given at the jail recorded blood alcohol levels of 0.112 and 0.116 percent, Lusczynski said. Florida law considers a driver impaired at 0.08.
Malone was released from the Hillsborough County jail on $2,500 bond. His car was impounded by police.
''The one thing is, no matter what happens, regardless of anything, you're dealt with as a human being first, hockey player second. That's how we deal with everything. ... So you want to look after your players in their life first,'' Cooper said, pausing at times to choose his words carefully. ''I'm happy everything's OK with Ryan. ... I've spoken to Ryan. There is a whole process that's going to go through here. It's out of our hands.''
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said Saturday that Malone ''is subject to mandatory evaluation'' under the substance abuse program agreed to by the league and the players' union, and ''his future playing status'' will be determined based on the terms of that program.
''Let's just say nobody's perfect. We all make marginal decisions at one point in our life. I know I've made them,'' Cooper said.
''He'll let this be a learning experience for him,'' Cooper said, ''and we're really looking forward to getting him back at some point.''
Malone has five goals and 10 assists in 57 games this season for the Lightning.
The 34-year-old forward is in his 10th NHL season, his sixth with Tampa Bay. He has 92 goals, 201 assists and 388 penalty minutes in his career.
''Hockey-wise, we've had way more distractions worse than this one. This is more of a life issue that is a friend of ours that we know is physically doing OK. Hopefully the worst is over. This is moving onward and upward after that,'' Cooper said. ''But as for the hockey, this won't be a distraction at all for us.''
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