DeBoer 'was winging it' in 2012, 'much more prepared' now


DeBoer 'was winging it' in 2012, 'much more prepared' now

SAN JOSE – In his six-plus years as an NHL head coach before taking over the Sharks gig, coach Pete DeBoer had been in the Stanley Cup playoffs only once.

It was quite a run.

In 2011-12, his first year behind the New Jersey bench, he took a veteran club all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, losing in six games to the Los Angeles Kings. It was DeBoer’s first taste of NHL playoff hockey after three seasons of missing out in Florida.

He’s drawing on that experience now, as the Sharks await their second round opponent.

“I just think until you experience it, you don’t realize how long the road is,” DeBoer said. “Just minimize the highs and lows, and not celebrate too much when things are going really well, and don’t overreact when they’re not."

“It really is an almost two-month marathon. I think that’s the approach we’re taking. Until you’ve lived through it into June, it’s hard to explain.”

In the first round against the Kings, DeBoer’s best move was, well, doing nothing.

Coaches typically make adjustments to their lines and/or lineup after losses, and despite the Sharks leading the Kings series two-games-to-one, their sharpness had dipped slightly with each passing game. The Kings kept getting better, and had the momentum going into a critical Game 4 at SAP Center.

DeBoer didn’t blink, though, keeping everything status quo. As a result, one of the Sharks that struggled mightily in games two and three, fourth liner Nick Spaling, ended up being one of their best players in Game 4. He was on the ice as the Sharks closed out a 3-2 win.

Spaling played for DeBoer before in OHL Kitchener as a junior. In 2008, they won a league championship together and were the runners-up for the Memorial Cup.

“He’s good at just looking ahead and keeping the guys focused on the next game and the task at hand, and handling the adversity,” Spaling said. “Obviously, playoffs are full of that."

The 2012 Devils run to the final wasn’t a smooth one. In fact, they trailed in each of the first three rounds before coming back to win a fourth game. They got past the Panthers in seven, Flyers in five and Rangers in six before the Kings were too much for them to handle.

Along the way, DeBoer made small adjustments that seemed to pay off.

After losing star forward Ilya Kovalchuk in Game 2 of the second round series against the Flyers, DeBoer played Adam Larsson for the first time in the playoffs and he scored a key third period goal. A heavy forecheck allowed New Jersey to get past Philadelphia fairly easily after that, as did the Devils’ ability to absorb a number of clean and borderline dirty hits by the Flyers.

Midway through the Rangers series, he swapped Jacob Josefsen in for Petr Sykora to help with New York’s speed. The Devils won three straight games after the switch.

Dainius Zubrus played in all 24 postseason games that year for DeBoer. He credited the coach for having a keen ability to game plan for a specific opponent.

“I think he’s very good at seeing what makes [the other team] good, what’s really important for us, and where we can exploit a weakness, I guess you could say,” Zubrus said. “That 2012 [year], in every series we were behind. There was never panic in terms of ‘oh my god, what are we going to do now?’ Just play our game, do this and do that, make it better and stay the course.”

Spaling said: "I think he’s good at just worrying about the details and making sure we’re prepared for a lot of the little things than can come about in a series.”

There are some real similarities between that 2012 Devils team and the current Sharks group, too. New Jersey was the second oldest team in the NHL that season, while the Sharks are currently listed as the third oldest by DeBoer has said in the past that it took the 2011-12 Devils until Christmas to really learn his system, while the Sharks, too, didn’t find any real consistency until early January.

DeBoer handling of the Sharks’ veteran leaders, and the rest they require to thrive on the ice, seems to be paying off much like it did in New Jersey.

“I think there’s quite a bit of similarity right now,” Zubrus said.

For the 2012 Devils, the end result was playing hockey until June. DeBoer is doing all he can to replicate that with the Sharks.

This time around, he has an even better idea of what it takes.

“I was just winging it last time. I really was. That’s the truth,” he said. “I feel much more prepared this time around, and hopefully we have to deal with those issues.”

Sharks' Tomas Hertl 'finally back' on ice after January knee injury

Sharks' Tomas Hertl 'finally back' on ice after January knee injury

It's not clear when the Sharks will play next.

One star took a big step towards rejoining them when they do.

Tomas Hertl posted a video Wednesday on his Instagram of him skating in his native Czech Republic, writing that he was "[f]inally back" on the ice.

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Finally back 🏒 @filipchlapik @hertlik89

A post shared by Tomas Hertl (@hertlik48) on

Hertl, 26, tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in January and missed the final 18 games of the Sharks' season before it was suspended -- and, ultimately, ended -- due to the coronavirus pandemic. The center injured his knee on Jan. 29 against the Vancouver Canucks, just four days after playing in his first All-Star Game. 

The 2012 first-round pick was one of the lone bright spots in the Sharks' otherwise dreary season, scoring 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) in 48 games. San Jose generated 56.76 percent of the expected goals and 54.38 percent of the high-danger chances with Hertl on the ice at full strength, according to Natural Stat Trick, and Hertl himself accounted for his highest rate of 5-on-5 expected goals (0.95 per hour) of any season other than his rookie year.

Hertl said in May that he expected to be ready to start the 2020-21 season, no matter when that is.

"I want to be there for my team, and that’s why I have been working every day for four months even with the season so far away," Hertl said at the time. "My next goal is getting back and being better than before. I know I can do it. I have to give it everything I can to get back.”

[RELATED: Thornton reportedly could play in Switzerland before NHL season]

Hertl's return to the ice marks an offseason milestone for the forward, who's signed through 2022.

He and his wife, Aneta, announced last month that they're expecting a baby in November.

'Red Penguins' tells wild story of NHL team's foray into Russian hockey

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'Red Penguins' tells wild story of NHL team's foray into Russian hockey

Vodka, violence and victory.

“Red Penguins,” a documentary released by Universal for streaming On Demand on Tuesday, chronicles the brief foray by the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins into ownership of a Russian professional hockey team. The film features plenty of vodka and violence, although victory proved to be elusive.

Penguins owners Tom Ruta and Steven Baldwin made the decision to invest in the struggling club HC CSKA Moscow, which previously had been controlled by the Soviet Union’s Red Army. Steven Warshaw, then the Penguins' vice president for sales and marketing, was the man tasked with overseeing the day-to-day operations on the ground in Moscow, and guides you through all of the unbelievable twists and turns that came with bringing American ideals of organizational structure and capitalism into a society that was amid a transition from decades of communism.

An in-arena strip club, live bears serving beer and a near nine-figure partnership with Disney are just part of what came to define the Penguins’ wild reign behind the Iron Curtain.

Director Gabe Polsky utilizes Warshaw and his enigmatic personality to tell the majority of the story, but also includes interviews from Russia with the team’s former mascot and broadcaster in Moscow, as well as former Red Army manager Valery Gushin, who developed a unique relationship with Warshaw that was both friendly and contentious.

The crew had to traverse some dangerous ground in collecting the interviews, and even had one interview interrupted by KGB officials.

“This overweight man was just sort of standing behind us for like, way more longer than comfortable,” Polsky said in an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area last week. “Within a couple minutes, the police show up and you hear it, and start saying ‘get the hell out of here,’ and basically they thought there was a bomb nearby.”

Equal parts hilarious and chilling, “Red Penguins” showcases the wildest aspects of running a professional sports franchise in Russia while detailing the danger and sadness that can be a consequence of doing business parallel to an organized crime syndicate.

Polsky, who is the son of Soviet immigrants to the United States, believes American hockey fans and sports fans in general can get a unique look at the complicated relationship between the two world superpowers, and how that dynamic both brought the Penguins immense popularity in Russia and led to their downfall.

“Almost no films out there, that are English-speaking, that take the audience into Russia,” Polsky said. “Seeing the people, understand the psychology, mentality, up against the American mentality, and you see it even more clearly.

“There’s a lot to kind of unpack and understand in this film.”

Whether you’re a Sharks fan, a general sports fan or even just someone who enjoys a compelling story involving international relations, “Red Penguins” will have you glued to your screen.