TAMPA — The Montreal Canadiens expect to have their coach back for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Friday, a huge boost when they return to Bell Centre after losing the first two games of the best-of-7 series to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Dominique Ducharme tested positive for COVID-19 on June 18 and was required to quarantine for 14 days. The earliest he can return is Game 3 (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“I think, as far as I know, he’ll be back in the building first thing tomorrow with the team and ready to go just like he was right before he left,” assistant Luke Richardson said Thursday before the Canadiens flew to Montreal.
That Ducharme’s absence hasn’t been a bigger story is a credit to Richardson, who has acted as coach the past two weeks, and it speaks to how we’ve learned to take so much in stride amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Or maybe it just shows how numb we have become to all the disruptions.
Health and safety are most important, of course, for Ducharme and everyone around him.
But this is the most important time of year in the NHL, the biggest stage in the sport of hockey, some of the most meaningful moments in the careers of everyone involved, and the Canadiens haven’t had their coach.
Ducharme missed the last four games of the Stanley Cup Semifinals, when the Canadiens upset the Vegas Golden Knights, and the first two games of the Cup Final. How would you feel sitting at home, isolated, watching on television when your team competes without you?
“I know personally, it would be killing you inside to be able to miss the grandest ball of them all, and that’s the Stanley Cup Final,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “… This is a time you should enjoy. For him to have a team that’s in the Final and not be a part of it, I feel for him, even if he’s the competition.
“You want the team to have their full slate of players and their coaching staff. You really want guys to be able to experience this and one day tell their kids, like, ‘Hey, I coached in the Stanley Cup Final.’ And so, he’s going to have that opportunity, but I’m sure it’s not been a fun couple weeks for him.”
It has hurt Montreal from a hockey standpoint too.
There is a reason the Canadiens promoted Ducharme to replace Claude Julien on Feb. 24. They felt he was the best man for the job, at least on an interim basis.
And he got them into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, got them believing they belonged and got them playing a style that defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and Golden Knights.
Think about it: Richardson, technically, has been the Canadiens’ interim interim coach.
Ducharme has still been involved, speaking to Richardson via text, phone and video conference and joining meetings via video conference. Richardson said he isn’t talkative on the phone and Ducharme is straight to the point, so their interactions have tended to be brief. Mostly, they’re for planning purposes.
“We’re kind of on a roll this time of the year, so I think Dom entrusts that I’m running things the way that he likes, and we keep in constant contact to make sure the plan is in order with what he would like as well,” Richardson said. “There’s no real specific time period of day that we speak or how many times. I think it’s been on a need-be basis and in between periods real quick and short, and that’s kind of normal, the way we talk and discuss things between periods, because things go fast.”
There is no substitute for being there, though, for speaking to the players between periods, for managing matchups behind the bench. The Canadiens will have the last line change at home.
“Obviously, Luke did a tremendous job with that as well, but Dom talks a lot between periods about in-game adjustments and things that will help us be successful the next period going out,” forward Eric Staal said. “Sometimes from afar it’s a little bit more difficult, so he’ll be hands-on with us. That’s good for us, so looking forward to having him back.”
Richardson was asked if having Ducharme return from quarantine would be like having a star player return from injury. He didn’t hesitate.
“Yeah, definitely,” Richardson said. “We’ve kept in contact and had some Zoom meetings, but it’s not the same. One more guy on the bench is going to be definitely helpful, especially Dom.
“He’s an intelligent coach and done really well with this team, so a fresh view and voice back there to add to what he’s seen us do in the first two games is going to be a plus for us, and just even more excitement going back home, so we’re looking forward to it.”