It might not have been as obvious as a player missing from the bench and all the space that it creates, but the Canadiens were without a key component for Games 1 and 2 of their Stanley Cup Final against the Lightning. Head coach Dominique Ducharme was out due to a required COVID-19 quarantine, but he is expected to be back for Game 3 on Friday with his team trailing 2-0.
“As far as I know he’ll be back in the building first thing tomorrow with the team, ready to go, just like he was right before he left,” assistant coach Luke Richardson said Thursday.
It was revealed June 19 that Ducharme tested positive for COVID-19. He has missed every Canadiens game since, beginning with Game 3 of the semifinals against the Golden Knights.
“Being vaccinated twice, the chances are really slim,” Ducharme told reporters on June 20. “I really wasn’t lucky on this one. . . . It’s frustrating because I’ve been doing everything they asked us to do. I never exposed myself.”
Ducharme had both doses but was still within the two-week window before becoming fully vaccinated. He was just eight days removed from getting his second jab.
“I know personally it would be killing [me] inside to miss the grandest ball of them all, and that’s the Stanley Cup Final,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said before Game 2, adding: “This is a time you should enjoy, and for him to have a team be in the final and not be part of it, I feel for him, even if he’s the competition.”
Richardson assumed the top spot and led the team to a 4-2 series win against the Golden Knights. He alos took the lead in the first two games of the final. Richardson played 27 games for the Lightning in 2006-07. Ducharme told reporters after the semifinals ended that he has been watching games with his girlfriend and that during intermissions he speaks to his staff for a few minutes — just like he would if he was there in person.
“We’ve always worked together, and that’s what we’re continuing to do,” he said. “Luke, we talked, and he’s a team guy, he’s the kind of teammate you want to have with you facing no matter what challenge. Everyone’s playing their role and working together. What we’re doing today is preparing the team in the same way we did for the other series. It’s just that I’m doing it via video with the players.”
“Yeah, he’s on Zoom. He’s involved in the meetings,” defenseman Jon Merrill said before Game 2. “He’s involved in the process. Not obviously as much as he was before he got struck with COVID, but he’s definitely still a big part of this team and we look forward to seeing him when we get back to Montreal.”
Now Ducharme is expected back for Game 3, which is scheduled for Friday in Montreal, and could provide a much-needed shot in the arm for the team.
“I think it will be huge,” veteran Eric Staal said Thursday. “I know it’s got to be killing Dom for the last two weeks just missing our group and missing the daily activities of what we do and preparing. He’s no different than us as players and I’m sure the rest of the staff . . . you dream and you work your whole life to be in a Stanley Cup Final. For him to miss the first two, it’s been tough but I know he’s been with us through the Zoom and all the pre-scout stuff and doing meetings that way. But to be with us in person will be huge for us. Now we’re looking forward to it.”
Montreal forward Joel Armia was also in COVID-19 protocols over the past weekend. Armia, who normally slots in on the fourth line, was separated from the team but cleared Monday. He flew to Tampa that day on a private plane and skated in warmups for Game 1 but did not take line rushes and was scratched. Montreal lost the opener 5-1. He came back into the lineup for Game 2 on Wednesday, which the Canadiens lost 3-1.