The Sabres were having a team dinner in Montreal on the night of March 11th. It’s a dinner that happens occasionally during the season. Buffalo was slated to play the Canadiens the next night.
As the team ate, news of Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell being potentially infected with the corona virus filtered to the Sabres the same way everyone else saw it.
“Everything began unraveling from there,” Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger said.
The team did head to the arena Thursday morning for a normal pregame skate. It didn’t last long.
“We heard we had to return to hotel. Jason Botterill spoke to team. We found out the reality of the situation,” Krueger said. “It was shocking at the time. Suddenly, the ground just fell out underneath us. It was a blur.”
The Sabres were quickly back on a plane to Buffalo and dispersed back to their homes. It was the last time they were together as a team. There was no farewell address from Krueger. He and the team thought the next phase of their season would be some sort of extended practice situation.
“If anyone said the (routine) meeting in the hotel in Montreal was the last time (the team would be together), I would not have believed you,” Krueger said. “We never did have that final conversation. Hopefully, that opportunity comes.”
Krueger spoke to the Western New York media Monday morning from his home in Switzerland. He said the trip back from Buffalo to Chicago to Zurich was simple and clean.
Life in Switzerland these days is very similar to life in Buffalo.
“It’s very quiet. People are extremely careful of their movements,” Krueger said. “A fear factor is in the air. We hope that things get under control soon.”
He regularly keeps in contact with his coaches and the Sabres management team. One of the major topics of conversation is what to do when… and if… the hockey season resumes.
“It’s an extremely challenging situation. Pause is the best word,” Krueger said. “We’ve left players alone for now. Coaches are in ready mode. If we can play games, we’ll take guys quickly into a mini camp. Players are well aware that they need to stay fit. They are doing their best.”
Not every player is in the same situation. Krueger says some have excellent home facilities to stay in shape. Others are in places in Europe where they can’t even get outside for a run. Ice time is scarce for everyone.
Krueger isn’t worried about his players staying in physical shape. The bigger concern is the psychological toll the unexpected break might have.
“We’re people used to having clear destinations,” Krueger said. “At the moment, all of us feel out of control. All of us feel uncertainty and feel discomfort. It’s all about taking care of family and friends and making sure the fan base is ok.”
The Sabres season schedule is still up in Krueger’s office. He did not want to discuss the season in the past tense with reporters on Monday and admitted he is still “hanging on the possibility of re-entry.”
Though the Sabres chances of making the playoffs were next to nil, Krueger still thought there was a chance for his team to grow in the final 13 games.
“If that opportunity does not occur, there will be a lesson lost,” Krueger said. “I did not feel any quit in the team.”
Krueger’s personal routine at home with his family is much like everyone else’s. He tries to exercise regularly. Text messages with players and coaches “fly” often.
On Wednesday, Krueger will be leading a webinar for over 400 coaches from various professional levels across Europe. It’s a program offered by the NHL Coaches Association.
Like everyone else, Krueger hopes the world can solve the corona virus dilemma as quickly and as safely as possible. Until then, hockey will take a secondary position. All he can do is be prepared for the day things might get back to normal.
“When the call comes, it’s on us to be ready.”