The order for a weight set barely made it in time. When he realized a pause to the NHL season would last far longer than first imagined, Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer headed to Ontario and gathered with his family.
Exercise became just another way to bond.
“We ordered a bunch of weights the first day I got back, less than a week before it became hard just to find dumbbells on Amazon,” DeBoer said. “We also have some good back country roads to run on. The competitive side is there, but I get humbled every day. For being 51, I’m serviceable.
“But it has been good to be together. That’s the silver lining in all this.”
One son plays hockey at Boston University. Another will do so at Holy Cross. A daughter attends a university in Canada. DeBoer and his wife were about to close on a house in Las Vegas when COVID-19 brought the world to a screeching halt.
He had been living out of a hotel room at Red Rock Resort, a slap shot from the team’s practice facility at City National Arena. Named to replace the fired Gerard Gallant in mid-January, DeBoer thought the Knights were close to discovering a playoff-level rhythm when the game went dark.
Now, it’s anyone’s guess as to which NHL teams will look the sharpest when the lights again shine.
If they do.
A hint of optimism arrived last week, when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced plans for a modified 24-team playoff tournament. No exact resumption of play was cited. Countless details need to be finalized. Things wouldn’t fully begin — health and safety willing — until a training camp in July.
The Knights were set to play in Minnesota on March 12 when told the game had been canceled and they would instead return to Las Vegas. The NHL had followed other professional leagues in shutting down.
“At first, you thought things might pick back up in a few weeks,” DeBoer said. “Now, it has been 2½ months. Like everyone, you have good days and bad days. You wake up depressed about things, and it seems as though there is no light at the end of the tunnel and then you see Gary Bettman on television talking about the resumption of the season. You get excited.
“I’m a pretty optimistic guy. I’ve definitely been a little stir crazy. I’ve always been an early riser who is at the rink early. You can’t just turn that off and sleep in. Sitting around has made for some very long days. But there at least seems to be a plan and framework to return now.”
A healthy return
His team should be totally healthy if play begins again, the Knights having paused their season with the likes of Mark Stone and Alex Tuch out while Max Pacioretty and Chandler Stephenson nursed injuries. No matter if Las Vegas is chosen as one of two hub cities in which the playoffs would be contested — it’s one of 10 being considered — the Knights would be among those favored to win the Stanley Cup in a time that is anything but ordinary.
And with that reality comes another: Whether it be the NHL or NBA or Major League Baseball or any other sports league that suspended played in the face of the coronavirus, many will attach an asterisk to any championship awarded following a shortened season.
DeBoer, who previously coached New Jersey and San Jose to Stanley Cup finals, would have a problem with such a designation. He’s not big on history labeling a championship in any way other than what such an accomplishment suggests, no matter which team eventually skates last.
“I care a lot about the idea (of an asterisk), and it would be (bleep),” he said. “Anyone who has gone through an NHL playoff knows how hard it is and that there are no easy roads in the map Gary Bettman has laid out for someone to lift the Stanley Cup this year.
“In over 100 years, this league has dealt with short seasons, no seasons, many other things, and no one ever questioned (a champion). One thing Gary and the players said from Day One is that whatever plan there was, there had to be integrity when handing out the Stanley Cup. I have no doubt that would be the case with this plan.”
It’s fairly obvious: While he doesn’t mind a run along those back country roads, DeBoer is itching to arrive at the rink early.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.