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Sharks Coaching Staff Creates Family of its Own

by Missy Zielinski / sjsharks.com

They may have led the San Jose Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final in just their first season, but San Jose's sophomore year coaching staff has been in the making for decades.

Now their paths have finally landed them all in the same place where "three lazy boy chair recliners, a big screen TV and the NHL package," have made them more than co-workers, but family.

"You have to go back a long way," San Jose Sharks Head Coach Peter DeBoer laughed.

From junior hockey opponents to classmates in Windsor, Ontario, DeBoer and Assistant Coach Bob Boughner first crossed paths as teenagers before developing another friendly rivalry on the ice as opposing coaches in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). 

"There has always been that mutual respect," Boughner said. "His teams always played hard and the right way. I always respected that."

The Herman High School alumni even have another rather important acquaintance that spans further back than their own friendship does.

"I actually went to grade school with Pete's wife," Boughner said. "I've known Sue [DeBoer] longer than I've known Pete."

As for Assistant Coach Steve Spott, he was ironically introduced to DeBoer by former Sharks forward Adam Graves. Both teenagers as well, Spott and DeBoer quickly became "buddies" during a couple of summer trips before their careers brought them together in junior hockey for the next 12 years, including time with the Plymouth Whalers and Kitchener Rangers.

"Pete and I have been together so long, we're family," Spott said.

On the other hand, Goaltending Coach and Assistant Coach Johan Hedberg's first interactions with DeBoer took place as a player. However, the Sharks head coach quickly recognized that Hedberg's future in hockey would span long past his playing career.

"When you meet a guy like Johan, even from the player-coach relationship, I really felt he had a future in coaching," DeBoer said. "I even told him that while he was playing."

"The fact that we're all out here together, it's like coming full circle," DeBoer said.

While DeBoer met Boughner, Spott and Hedberg at different phases of his career, he believed that each brought something special he envisioned for his coaching staff in San Jose and to get all three to uproot themselves to the West Coast would need to be the perfect storm. 

So DeBoer decided to do something a little unconventional, he decided to invite his coaching staff to be his roommates as well.

"I think the idea first came to me because I really wanted this staff and I knew the sacrifice I was going to ask them to make.

"I didn't know how it would work out," DeBoer continued. "I haven't lived with other guys on a coaching staff…ever."

The living situation was a unique idea, but each one of them was in a similar position.

"I think all of us have parallel situations," said Spott. "We have teenage children that are back home, where they have their own lives, their own academic situations. They were best served staying back home because it was best for our children."

Knowing how hard it was going to be to spend a greater part of a calendar year away from their wives and children, the four have been working hard to be long distance families and have learned a lot about themselves along the way.

"It's funny, but I think it's toughest on us," DeBoer said.

"They're routines and lives don't change," he continued. "Dad's not around as much as normal, but their day-to-day stays the same. It's us now, sitting around, looking at each other watching hockey when you're used to being around your wife and kids."

And they have discovered a valuable lesson that can often be taken for granted in a daily routine.

"If anything, being away so much of the time has pushed us into spending more quality family time together and doing things we wouldn't have done at home," Boughner said.

That means planning visits strategically around a schedule that allows sometimes just four days off per month. Whether it's meeting in a city on the road, playing "tour guide" somewhere in California or simply spending the evening cooking dinner together, their San Jose home always has a family-first atmosphere.

"It's nice when we have a full house," Spott said. "It makes it feel like home."

"It's funny, if someone's gone, it kind of feels empty," Hedberg said. "You kind of miss each other. At least I feel that way."

Now a year-and-a-half later, DeBoer, Spott and Hedberg still live together and have even divvied-up the responsibilities away from the rink.

"We all have our own strengths and weaknesses," DeBoer joked. 

"Pete is great on the grill, he loves to BBQ," Spott continued. "And I do the dishes - setup, teardown, I'm your guy for that."

"Hedberg chips in a little bit every where," DeBoer added.

Boughner is a frequent house visitor too. 

The group finds time after practice and on off days to watch hockey as a staff, but also finds time to decompress, claiming "Prison Break," "Orange Is the New Black," and "Mad Men" as TV shows on their recently watched list.

And luckily, "we have our own rooms, so we can hide when we need some time on our own," Hedberg said.

Living thousands of miles away from their families is something that the players recognize and shows the dressing room how committed the coaches are to their success.

"That's our way of showing we are all in on this," said DeBoer. "Because most of them are family men, they understand that sacrifice."

The camaraderie among coaches also does its part in bleeding into the locker room, helping foster that "family" feeling. Joe Pavelski and his son, Nate, as well as Marc-Edouard Vlasic and his dogs even pay the trio a visit at times.

"Coming from Toronto, we never had anything like that," Spott said. "Here it is very community oriented, and I think they appreciate that family feel as well."

"It's infectious," Boughner added.

Despite the personal sacrifices made, it seems that DeBoer and the coaching staff have mastered the balance of work and family. 

They hope that the close bond they have developed away from the rink will carry over into the Sharks dressing room and ultimately, the team's performance on the ice. 

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