Five Questions: DeBoer discusses first season in NJ
NHL.com will periodically be doing a series called "Five Questions With…," a Q&A with some of the key movers and shakers in the game today aimed at gaining some insight into their lives and careers.
This edition features New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer.
Peter DeBoer is quiet, yet intensely competitive; unassuming, yet supremely confident.
This is a coach who never lost faith in himself or his philosophy after three failed seasons with the Florida Panthers; a coach whose systems and beliefs helped change the reputation of the New Jersey Devils last season to that of a team ferocious in its forecheck and fearless in its pursuit of the puck.
DeBoer refused to back down when he was being taken to task by New York Rangers coach John Tortorella. He saw a 3-0 deficit in the Stanley Cup Final and without a hint of hesitation claimed his team was capable of turning what was a rout into a competitive series.
The Devils didn't win the Stanley Cup, but they won Games 4 and 5 against the Los Angeles Kings, proving DeBoer's beliefs were in fact based in reality.
DeBoer is also a coach who spent 15 seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, including 13 as a head coach, working with teenagers as he crafted his beliefs and philosophies.
Now, DeBoer is the latest subject of NHL.com's Q&A series.
Here are Five Questions With … Peter DeBoer:
Before last spring you had never competed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as either a player or coach. Not only did you make it to the postseason, you wound up going to the Stanley Cup Final. How did you try to make it all seem normal?
"I felt very prepared for the situation I was in, really, because of the time I spent in junior hockey with the deep playoff runs we had and the World Junior experience I had. The road I took in my coaching career prepared me to handle that. Obviously, everything was a little bit bigger. The press conferences were bigger. The stage was obviously bigger, but my preparation was done through 15 years of riding buses and doing those things."
The forecheck you have brought to New Jersey is particularly aggressive. Was it difficult to bring that style and that philosophy to the Devils based on the history and the reputation the organization had built as being quite defensive-minded?
"On the face of it you would think it would be. You're following Jacques Lemaire, who had such a great run the second half of the year prior playing a typical Jacques Lemaire system, which isn't that [aggressive forechecking]. With the history of the New Jersey Devils and their style you would think on the face of it [it would be tough], but I felt I got a lot of support from [Devils general manager] Lou [Lamoriello] in that Lou told me he didn't care what the system was as long as I believed in it, as long as I could teach it, implement it and that it worked. I assured him that while we were going to be aggressive in some areas we hadn't been maybe before, the cornerstone of this team was still going to be defending, keeping the shots down and playing tough, gritty defense. He gave me great support in that area.
"I had some conversations over the summer I took the job with [players] and
I got the feeling that I had a captive audience that wanted to play that way a little bit more, and felt we would be a better team if we could find more balance in that area. We were coming off a year in which we ended up 30th in the League in goals for, so we needed to fix that."
When you were told you were done in Florida after three seasons of not making the playoffs, did you worry about getting another NHL head coaching job?
"You know what, I probably should have been [worried], but I wasn't. In my mind, while obviously there's things you would change in hindsight, I really felt I did the best job I could and I felt people would recognize that and some of the things we dealt with there in Florida during my time. To be honest with you, the phone wasn't ringing off the hook right after [I was fired], so those doubts did start to creep in a little bit prior to Lou calling, but initially I didn't have those doubts. I had confidence that people would recognize that while we didn't win, our team played hard every night and played the right way."
You were a head coach in the Ontario Hockey League for 13 seasons, which is a long time and would seemingly allow you to get comfortable there. Was coaching in the NHL always in your mind, always the goal, or were you just happy in the OHL and willing to let things play out?
"No, I always had it in my mind that I wanted to coach at the highest level possible; I just wanted to make sure I was prepared to go to that level and at the same time enjoy the moment of coaching at the level I was at. A lot of times, and this isn't just in hockey, you're in such a rush to get to the next step that you don't enjoy the step you're at. I wanted to make sure I enjoyed the step I was at, and I did. I loved that level of hockey. I thought I had the ability to make a real difference in a lot of young people's lives, not just guys that went on to the NHL but people that went on to become doctors, police officers -- it was a real rewarding step. But at the same time, I always wanted to coach in the best league in the world."
This is a three-parter: You hold a law degree from the University of Windsor, so I have to ask, why did you get one, how have you used it, and do you have any plans to use it in the future?
"All good questions. I got a law degree because it was an area that always interested me and I actually had the opportunity of working in a criminal-law firm one summer, working in an in-house legal department, and it was very rewarding. I can tell you I use my law degree, I feel, on a daily basis even though I don't practice law. I really believe coaching is about convincing players why they should be doing something and making a case for that. It's something I use all the time and it's something that has been invaluable in my coaching life. Will I ever practice law? I doubt it, other than informally as a coach, but I enjoyed my three years at law school and I feel I use the degree daily."
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer