The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DAVID POLLAK

Dun­nville’s Peter DeBoer and his fam­ily cope with long-dis­tance life.

Sue DeBoer had cir­cled Sun­day on the kitchen calendar in­side her Madi­son, New Jersey, home months ago.

It is the day her hus­band, Peter DeBoer, coach of the San Jose Sharks, would be fac­ing the New Jersey Devils in Newark, 17 miles from the DeBo­ers’ home.

Sun­day’s mati­nee was the only meet­ing this sea­son be­tween the two teams at the Pru­den­tial Cen­ter — and the first time since Novem­ber that Sue and Peter DeBoer had beeen to­gether in the two-story house that has been their home for six years.

The Dun­nville na­tive was fired as head coach of the Devils in De­cem­ber 2014, and took the same po­si­tion with the Sharks in May 2015.

DeBoer and his wife de­cided that she and their three teenage chil­dren would stay back East.

Any ca­reer in the trenches of pro sports comes with the ad­vi­sory that ma­jor change can come in an in­stant. Play­ers are traded. Coaches, as the adage goes, are hired to be fired.

“There’s only 30 of th­ese jobs in the world, and if you get an op­por­tu­nity to get one, you have to take it,” DeBoer said. “And when we talked about mov­ing ev­ery­body out here, the kids were at cer­tain points in their lives where we just de­cided we didn’t want to dis­rupt them to do that. So this is what we’ve cho­sen to do. It’s not per­fect, but it’s tol­er­a­ble.”

DeBoer, 48, is not the only NHL coach spend­ing a sec­ond sea­son away from his fam­ily. Todd McLel­lan, 49, the man DeBoer re­placed be­hind the Sharks’ bench, now coaches the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers and is rent­ing a down­town condo in Al­berta, while his wife, Deb­bie, and their son, Cale, re­main in San Jose, Cal­i­for­nia.

“I think it only works if you have a real strong fam­ily unit and you’re able to com­mu­ni­cate daily and keep up to date on things,” said McLel­lan, who left the Sharks by mu­tual agree­ment one year be­fore his con­tract ex­pired. “We’ve been able to do that.”

DeBoer and McLel­lan had up­rooted their fam­i­lies sev­eral times be­fore their lat­est moves.

“We had moved as a fam­ily from On­tario to Florida when I took my first coach­ing job in the NHL,” said DeBoer, who made the jump from the Kitch­ener Rangers of the On­tario Hockey League to the Florida Pan­thers in 2008. “We moved again from Florida to New Jersey when the kids were still in grade school.”

To­day, DeBoer’s daugh­ter, Abby, 17, is a high school se­nior ac­tive in sports who hopes to stay on the East Coast for col­lege. His son, Matt, is 13 and plays Triple A Ban­tam hockey with friends he has grown up with.

“It’s a mat­ter of him be­ing in a sit­u­a­tion that will pro­vide him with op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Sue DeBoer said.

McLel­lan’s son, Cale, is a promis­ing golfer who drew na­tional at­ten­tion in 2014 when he shot two con­sec­u­tive holes-in-one in tour­na­ment play at age 14. In San Jose, he can be on the links year-round.

Both fam­i­lies made the de­ci­sion to split even though the teenagers showed a will­ing­ness to move.

“Cale was sit­ting there say­ing, ‘No, let’s all go,’” McLel­lan said. “But he was do­ing that be­cause he could see the fam­ily stress as well.”

The DeBoer and McLel­lan fam­i­lies also have sons away from home pur­su­ing their own hockey dreams. Jack DeBoer, 16, is en­rolled in the U.S. hockey devel­op­ment pro­gram in Ann Ar­bor, Michi­gan. Tyson McLel­lan, 20, is a fresh­man play­ing at the Univer­sity of Den­ver af­ter three sea­sons in the U.S. Hockey League, where he lived in Iowa and Wis­con­sin.

Tech­nol­ogy helps bridge dis­tances. Texts fly back and forth. FaceTime or Skype pro­vides vis­ual con­tact, though with ev­ery­one on dif­fer­ent sched­ules, ses­sions are not at fixed times.

But it’s not as if his wife lacked ex­pe­ri­ence be­ing the lone par­ent at home.

DeBoer is in his ninth sea­son as an NHL coach, with long road trips over the course of 82-game sea­sons that stretch from Oc­to­ber to April.

“It’s harder be­cause it’s longer stretches of time,” Sue DeBoer said, “but it’s al­ways been what he does. He’s been gone, and I’ve been here with the kids. We’ve man­aged that.”

Hol­i­day breaks and the va­garies of the NHL sched­ule al­low DeBoer and McLel­lan to see their fam­i­lies an av­er­age of about once a month.

When the Sharks were in New York in Novem­ber for games against the New York Rangers and the New York Is­lan­ders, DeBoer spent two nights in Madi­son, rid­ing an NJ Tran­sit com­muter train into Man­hat­tan for the games. In March, his daugh­ter and a few friends flew out to San Jose and toured the nearby Stan­ford cam­pus.

Sue and the chil­dren spent the NHL Christ­mas break in San Jose, and Sue trav­eled to Los An­ge­les for All-Star week­end, for which Peter was a coach.

The NHL sched­ule-maker has been kind to McLel­lan this sea­son. The Oil­ers’ fi­nal game be­fore the Christ­mas break was in San Jose, en­abling him to make a 15-minute drive from the arena to his home there. Ed­mon­ton’s fi­nal game be­fore the All-Star break was also in San Jose.

McLel­lan knows it will be one more sea­son be­fore things re­turn to nor­mal. Cale will grad­u­ate from high school in 2018, and at that point Deb­bie will move to Ed­mon­ton.

The DeBo­ers are less cer­tain when they will be liv­ing year-round un­der one roof. Matt is only a fresh­man in high school.

“We’re just go­ing to kind of play it by ear and watch it un­fold,” Sue DeBoer said. “There’s no script to it.”


San Jose Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer, stand­ing right, in­structs his play­ers dur­ing the first pe­riod against New Jersey Sun­day.


Matt DeBoer laughs with his mother, Sue, right, and his sis­ter, Abby, third from left, as they watch a hockey game at home in Madi­son, N.J.

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