On Tuesday afternoon, the Vegas Golden Knights were given the news that a member of the team’s coaching staff had tested positive for COVID-19. With no indication as to whom it was, the entire staff – including that of head coach Peter DeBoer – opted to self-isolate, due to an abundance of caution for the spread of the virus.
That left 60-year-old General Manager Kelly McCrimmon in a bit of a bind. However, with the first matchup of a two-game homestand against the St. Louis Blues set to be played later in the evening, the veteran Western Hockey League bench boss assembled a team of assistants from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate Henderson Silver Knights, and made his NHL coaching debut, which just so happened to be his first game coaching in nearly half a decade.
“We had an exposure on our coaching staff, so the best way to handle that is to isolate the entire staff. It’s not a case where the entire staff tested positive,” McCrimmon said post-game. “Most that didn’t, quite frankly, but the protocol is such that you pull those people from the group. But fortunately there’s been no positive tests for players. Based on how the day unfolded, we took the steps that we did to best prepare our team to play tonight.”
The team will not practice at City National Arena on Wednesday, with McCrimmon again stressing the abundance of caution required when these sorts of exposures do occur.
“That’s more just to let another day go thorugh the system to assess where we are and what the next steps might be. I don’t know what those are at this point,” McCrimmon said. “These things, there’s a process that you follow. As more information is available, you make further decisions.”
Rather than letting his full AHL staff take over behind the bench, McCrimmon opted to step in, something that he also explained post-game.
“We were working with the National Hockey League, and it became apparent that our entire coaching staff was not going to be able to be available to coach. And I would have the best familiarity with the players,” he said candidly. “So I think that probably – and I’ve coached in the past – so I think probably that would have been the thought process on that decision.”
Although unable to seal the victory, Vegas ended up coming from behind and salvaging one point in the team’s 5-4 shootout loss to St. Louis. The Golden Knights outshot the Blues 46-25 and nearly doubled the visitors in shot attempts 83-48.
“He knows how to coach,” said Golden Knights’ captain and past Brandon Wheat Kings forward Mark Stone on his former coach. “He’s coached plenty of hockey games in his life and had a lot of help. They had the Henderson staff up here. They did a great job. Kind of kept it simple for a bit, but he cares about winning. I’m sure that’s all he had in his mind behind the bench tonight.”
Despite the shootout loss, and the loss of his NHL coaching staff, one might expect McCrimmon to be back on the bench in the rematch vs. the Blues Thursday night if Peter DeBoer is unable to go, as McCrimmon would look to even up his career NHL coaching record. Vegas (5-1-1) will travel to Arizona to battle the San Jose Sharks following this home contest against St. Louis.
“I give the players a lot of credit,” McCrimmon said. “They played really hard, and I thought they played a really good game. I couldn’t thank the players enough for the effort that they put forward tonight.”
Taking over the position of general manager with the Golden Knights in 2019, McCrimmon joined the team as an assistant GM in 2016 after winning the WHL championship with the Brandon Wheat Kings, where he served in various roles for the better part of 30 years, including that of head coach for 13 seasons. His final game behind the bench came at the 2016 Memorial Cup, just days after the Wheat Kings earned the WHL championship by beating the Seattle Thunderbirds in five games. McCrimmon owns a 453-329-49-13 all-time record as head coach in Brandon.