MONTREAL — Dominique Ducharme will be back behind the bench for the Montreal Canadiens against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final at Bell Centre on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
The coach completed the required 14-day quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 on June 18.
“I don’t think the last two weeks changes what it means to me,” Ducharme said. “I mean, that’s everyone’s dream, to be playing or [be] involved in a Stanley Cup Final, and just so happy to be back.”
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, watching from home as the Canadiens fell behind 2-0 in the best-of-7 series at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
Assistant Luke Richardson coached Montreal, while Ducharme kept in contact with him and others via text, phone and video conference.
“It’s not easy,” Ducharme said. “I mean, I love what I do, and I love being with that team, that group of guys. Same thing with the staff. I think we’re working well together. To have that taken away from me was difficult. But at the same time, there are things that you control and others that you don’t, and we tried just to make the most out of it.”
It wasn’t easy on the rest of the team, either.
“Obviously, it was an adjustment for everybody, definitely a surprise as well,” forward Tyler Toffoli said. “It was kind of a quick turnover, and Luke did a great job. But I think we’re going to go back to something we’re really comfortable with.”
Ducharme can return to managing the forward lines, with the Canadiens having the last change at home. Richardson can return to running the defense.
“Obviously, it’s nice to get your head coach back, have a familiar voice back leading the meetings and on the ice kind of directing the ship,” defenseman Ben Chiarot said.
Ducharme participated in the morning skate Friday at the Canadiens practice facility in Brossard, Quebec.
“The most important thing is getting to know your players, individually, on the character side, attitude, but also in the way they play and how they have success and how [they can] be consistent having success, and always bring them back to that,” Ducharme said. “Today we talked to every line and looked at a [defense] meeting and spoke individually with a few guys, but there was [not a] necessarily new message to some guys. It’s just reinforcing a few things we’ve been talking about before.”
Ducharme was promoted to replace Claude Julien, who was fired Feb. 24.
“Obviously, Dom’s a great coach,” Toffoli said. “He did a great job this year. So he’s excited. We’re all excited to just get out there and play here at home in front of our fans and just get a win here.”