Queen's alum sees Stanley Cup Final

Vegas Golden Knights’ strength and conditioning coach talks NHL experience 

Davidson played on the Queen's rugby team for four years.

When Doug Davidson signed with the Las Vegas Golden Knights last summer as the team’s first strength and conditioning coach, he had a number of expectations.

But nowhere on the Queen’s alum’s list was seeing the team reach the Stanley Cup Finals, especially in his first gig at the NHL level.

"If you said that at the beginning of the year—that we’d be in the cup final—I wouldn’t have believed you," Davidson, BPHE ’13, said in an interview with The Journal just a week
after going to Stanley Cup Finals with the Golden Knights. Despite the team ending their season in a six-game series loss to the Washington Capitals, Davidson, the experience still fresh, admitted the season was unlike anything he’d ever seen.

"It was a really special year and not just because of the results," the ex-Queen’s rugby player said, noting the quick cohesiveness of the team from the outset of the season caught him by surprise. "When you looked at the guys in the room, it was clear that they were all character guys [and] it makes things a lot easier."

The Golden Knights, who entered the league this fall, broke nearly every record for a team’s inaugural season performance. Finishing fifth in the NHL, Vegas was able to slap together a group of players and come within a couple wins of the Stanley Cup—and Davidson was there for every moment.

As the strength and conditioning coach for the team, Davidson was responsible for maximizing each player’s fitness potential. He oversaw and documented each player’s performance enhancing and recovery activities, as well as administering personalized plans for players.

Davidson was hired after spending two years with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ minor league affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. During Pittsburgh’s consecutive Stanley Cup-winning playoff seasons, Davidson was brought up to assist the Penguin’s strength and conditioning team. He said this experience helped him manage his expectations going into this year.

"[It was] a lot more travel … You’re playing nearly every other day," Davidson said. "It was definitely a big adjustment in that respect."

Entering the season, Davidson had a small sense of familiarity with former Penguins David Perron, James Neal and Marc-Andre Fleury, who had been chosen in the team’s expansion draft. After working with players for a full year in Vegas, Davidson said the athletes had a higher sense of professionalism than his experience in the AHL with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

"In the AHL, you get a lot of young guys who are trying to figure it out," Davidson said. "They haven’t fully realized that the off-ice stuff really does matter in terms of staying healthy, longevity, and performing on a day-to-day basis. At the NHL level, a lot of guys—specifically the veterans—have had that learning curve behind them."

As the stakes increased during the playoffs this spring, Davidson said much of his job was eliminating any unnecessary stressors for the players—something that’s given less attention to at the AHL level.

"When I’m in charge of meals, for example, I’m making sure everything’s dialled in," he said. "That’s always stressful [and] if you make a mistake, they won’t let it slide. They play at a high level and they expect you to be at that same level."

Just over two weeks since the season ended, Davidson is keeping busy as he progresses through exit meetings with the players and assigning summer plans. Though unclear on how to articulate his definition of how well the past year has gone, Davidson could only assess his level of happiness—something that took moments to express.

"I’m enjoying it and I’m excited for next year," Davidson said. "I’m looking out of my gym right now and, honestly, I couldn’t ask for more."

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