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Pete DeBoer earns NHL All-Star appearance with steady hand

No one can say Pete DeBoer didn’t earn his way to the All-Star Game bench.

The Golden Knights coach was thrown a lot of curveballs the first half of the season. Four of his top eight scorers from a year ago have missed 15 games or more. A fifth — right wing Alex Tuch — didn’t play before getting traded to Buffalo.

The Knights also had numerous people enter the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol, including DeBoer and two members of his coaching staff.

But the adversity didn’t knock the team off course. The Knights were first in the Pacific Division in points percentage when All-Star Game coaches were named Jan. 11, putting DeBoer in the event for the second time in his career.

“Particularly from the coaching perspective, you’re really the representative of the players’ efforts, the coaching staff’s efforts, the trainers’ efforts, the medical team’s efforts this year,” said DeBoer, who will try to lead the Pacific to its third win in four events. “We’ve dealt with a lot of adversity in a lot of areas. To be in first at the day that they chose the teams or decided to cut the deadline off, big testament to that group’s effort.”

DeBoer’s previous All-Star experience came in 2017 in Los Angeles when he was with the San Jose Sharks. He led the Pacific to a semifinal win but lost the final to the Metropolitan.

That was before the Knights existed, and DeBoer initially earned the fan base’s ire going against the team in two heated playoff series with San Jose in 2018 and 2019. Things got even more complicated when he was named the franchise’s second coach the same day Gerard Gallant was fired Jan. 15, 2020. Gallant was to participate in his second All-Star Game in three seasons with the Knights before the news.

DeBoer tamed any initial awkwardness by winning early and often. Through Monday, the Knights have the second-most wins (81) and are tied for the fourth-most points (169) and the third-best points percentage (.687) since he took over. They also won two playoff series in each of his first two seasons.

His detailed approach has gotten the Knights’ defensemen more involved in the attack, and he helped the team become the NHL’s top penalty kill last season.

“Pete kind of knows every player individually and what he can get out of them,” center Chandler Stephenson said. “That’s why he has the resume that he does. He knows his players really well and just respects them. And vice versa. Players respect him as a coach. I think it’s not a coincidence what he’s done in the league.”

This season’s challenges put DeBoer’s management skills to the test again. But despite all the firepower missing from the lineup, the team is tied for eighth in goals per game (3.31) and ranks eighth in shots on goal per game (33.8).

He’s found ways to make an ever-evolving group as cohesive and productive as possible. His reward is another day of work at his main office. This one just comes with some deserved recognition for his efforts.

“He has a lot of respect for us as players and listens to us,” said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who is on the Pacific Division roster. “He’s a real good communicator, and obviously systemwise, he demands a lot, but that’s what’s made him a successful coach for so long.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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