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Canadiens' coach symptom-free; hopes to return in days

By JOHN WAWROW

AP Hockey Writer

MONTREAL (AP) Canadiens interim coach Dominique Ducharme on Sunday said he remained symptom-free two days after testing positive for COVID-19, and hoped to be back behind the bench during Montreal's Stanley Cup semifinal series against Vegas.

Wearing a dark blue collared Canadiens shirt, with his white hair spiked and a familiar short stubble on his chin, Ducharme spoke from an undisclosed location during a 12-minute video conference call with reporters, his first comments since entering mandatory isolation.

"I wish I could be at the rink right now. I don't feel different than a week ago," Ducharme said as the Canadiens prepared to host Vegas in Game 4 later in the day.

Montreal has a 2-1 series lead, with Game 5 at Vegas scheduled for Tuesday. If necessary, Game 6 will be in Montreal on Thursday and Game 7 at Vegas on Saturday.

Ducharme was asked if he'll be required to spend 14 days in isolation.

"I'm confident I'll be back before that," he said.

Ducharme said he is fully vaccinated for the coronavirus and will clear the 2-week waiting period following his second shot on Wednesday.

It's unclear whether the 48-year-old Ducharme will be able to return at that point.

"Nothing's confirmed as far as that. The organization remains in communication with the authorities. It's a unique situation. We've been isolated since December," Ducharme said in French.

Ducharme said no one he's been in contact with, including his girlfriend, has tested positive. He said he followed NHL COVID-19 protocols when the Canadiens traveled to Vegas last week to open the series.

The Canadiens were limited to only certain areas of their hotel in Vegas, and required to travel by bus to and from the rink.

Montreal, a member of the NHL's all-Canadian North Division, was the first team to cross the border this season after teams were limited to inter-division play through the second round of playoffs.

"It's frustrating because I've been doing everything that they've asked us to do. I never exposed myself. I got that bad luck," said Ducharme, who remains in daily contact with his team and staff via phone and video calls.

This marks the second consecutive postseason in which Montreal assistant Luke Richardson has been required to step in on an emergency basis. Last summer, Richardson and former assistant coach Kirk Muller shared the coaching duties after Claude Julien was hospitalized with chest pains following Game 1 of Montreal's first-round series against Philadelphia.

Julien missed the remainder of the playoffs, and resumed coaching this season before being fired on Feb. 24 and replaced by Ducharme.

For Ducharme, it was difficult watching from isolation as the Canadiens rallied from two one-goal deficits in a 3-2 overtime win in Game 3 on Friday.

"You feel helpless watching and hoping for the best. It's a weird situation," Ducharme said. "Kind of a special situation, but it's been a special year. We've been through a lot. And we'll get through that."

The Canadiens had the worst record of the NHL's 16 playoff qualifiers before upsetting Toronto and Winnipeg in the first two rounds.

The Golden Knights have already seen this scenario play out in this postseason. Colorado Avalanche coach Jared Bednar missed a morning skate because of a COVID-19 testing irregularity. He was cleared in time to coach in Game 6 of the second-round series against Vegas.

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Updated June 20, 2021

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