Ralph Krueger says the 11 days since the NHL paused its season due to concerns about the coronavirus have felt like a lifetime.
The Buffalo Sabres coach is a citizen of Switzerland, and he’s been in Zurich since early last week, in self-isolation, wondering when and if the 2019-20 season will resume.
“Whatever decisions are made, we’re going to embrace them and we’ll do the best,” Krueger said on a conference call Monday. “There’s nothing that I cannot imagine as an option here at the moment.”
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With so much time spent inside, he said he often looks at the Sabres schedule in his office and wonders what might have been. The Sabres have 13 games to play and are 13 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes for the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
But then the first-year coach of the Sabres thinks about the vacant streets outside and knows the world is dealing with a much more serious issue than a race for a spot in the postseason.
“I just came off a conference call with the coaches and it sounds like life here is pretty similar to what people in Buffalo and/or Chicago are feeling, where it’s very quiet,” he said. “People are extremely careful in their movement and quite disciplined and respectful toward the situation, which we all need to be.
“But the fear factor is in the air. With Italy, Spain, France, Germany kind of surrounding Switzerland there is a lot of buzz and, of course, hope that things get under control soon.”
Krueger said the coaches to date have left the players alone during their self-quarantines. He believes they’ll keep themselves in shape for whenever hockey returns.
“It’s one of those [situations] where sports will be very important out the other end of this, I know that,” he said. “We just have to be ready when that call comes, that we do our part to get the world in motion in the right direction again.”
A world that is currently in flux.
“Not only the NHL on pause right now, most of the countries in the western world are on pause,” he said. “In the world, period.”
It’s was on March 11, a day before the NHL announced it was pausing the season, when Krueger was at a team meal in Montreal, getting the Sabres ready to play the Canadiens the next night.
“During that dinner the news broke about [one] NBA [playe] testing positive and everything kind of started unraveling from there,” he recalled. “We weren’t sure where that would take us.
“We began the game day in Montreal as if we were going to play. The coaches headed to the arena and when we got [there] we heard we needed to return to the hotel.”
General manager Jason Botterill was waiting there to deliver the message: the season had been put on hold.
“We found out the reality of our situation. And it was shocking at the time,” Krueger said. “We were high-intensity into the season and suddenly the ground just fell out from underneath us.
“The day itself was shocking. It was very well-managed by the National Hockey League and by our management. We were quickly back on an airplane to return home and everybody went into their own quarters and quarantined from the moment we arrived home.
“As far as I know, everybody has remained in that mode of safety for now — the social distancing and all of that.”
It is unclear if the NHL season will resume and what will happen if it does. But Krueger is holding out hope the Sabres can get a chance to make a postseason push.
“We’re extremely disappointed that we weren’t able to play those 13 [remaining] games to date,” he said. “Hopefully something still pops up here and we’re still hanging on to that [playoff] hope.”