Bruce Boudreau was a 5-9 center who made a large reputation as a hockey player in his hometown of Toronto during three seasons for the Marlboros junior team. In his final season of 1974-75, he had 68 goals and 165 points in 69 games.
Boudreau edged Tim Young for the scoring title in the Ontario Hockey Association by two points.
“That little so-and-so, he got two points in the last game to beat me out,” Young told the Minneapolis Tribune’s John Gilbert in late September 1975.
Young and Boudreau were both rookie centers in the training camps of Minnesota teams: Young with the North Stars in Bloomington, and Boudreau with the Fighting Saints in St. Paul.
The Saints had taken Boudreau as a 19-year-old in the 1974 World Hockey Association draft. There were rumors Boudreau already had a deal with the Saints, so he fell to the third round and was selected by the Maple Leafs in the 1975 NHL draft.
Wayne Belisle was serving as the managing partner for the Saints entering the 1975-76 season. Boudreau came to the Twin Cities after the Marlboros’ season ended to meet with Belisle, General Manager Glen Sonmor and coach Harry Neale.
“We didn’t know how to entertain, since he wasn’t old enough to drink,” Belisle said. “So we took him on a pontoon ride around White Bear Lake and made our pitch.”
Belisle paused and added: “He must have liked the boat ride. He signed with us.”
Bill Butters was a Saints defenseman. “Sonmor talked about this kid from Toronto like he was the second coming of Gretzky,” Butters said.
Glen was afflicted with a strong streak of optimism. The only quality in a player that excited Sonmor more than a point producer was a penalty-minutes producer.
“That team we had in 1975-76 … that’s when Sonmor was saying, ‘Let’s get in an empty arena with the North Stars, lock the doors, and see which team comes out ahead,’ ” Butters said.
Mike Walton. Davey Keon. Paul Holmgren. John McKenzie. Rick Smith. John Arbour. Jack Carlson and his brothers, Steve and Jeff. And numerous other local standouts: Mike Antonovich, Henry Boucha, Lefty Curran, Craig Sarner, Pat Westrum and Butters.
There was enough talent that the next Gretzky had a hard time breaking into the lineup. Boudreau spent part of his rookie season with the Johnstown [Pa.] Jets, the Saints’ farm club.
The classic hockey parody “Slap Shot,” was being filmed at the time. Boudreau had a nonspeaking role as a player for the Hyannisport Presidents, rivals of player-coach Paul Newman’s fictional Charlestown Chiefs.
With the Saints, Boudreau was introduced to a level of pranking that would have fit into the “Slap Shot” script.
Butters has been a very religious man for decades and is deeply involved with Hockey Ministries. In the mid-’70s, he was deeply involved in the hazing culture that existed throughout sports at the time.
He had some companions in this with the Saints. The main target in 1975-76 was Boudreau, a 20-year-old rookie on a veteran team.
“Bruce already had the nickname ‘Gabby’ when we got him,” said Curran, a goalie. “He was a nice kid, but he wouldn’t stop talking. And with the people on that team … once they started in, it was relentless.
“Butters was like that pitcher with the Twins, [Bert] Blyleven — it wasn’t malicious, but he was going to pull pranks that would get everyone’s attention.
“Bruce would go in the shower, and they would put a nail in his shoes … a nail or something else. Then, we’d all sit around the locker room and wait for him to put his shoes on.
“Bruce also used to travel with this tiny suitcase. We’d be going on a road trip for a week or 10 days, and he had a suitcase that said he didn’t have many changes of clothes. Then, they would get ahold of his suitcase … not good.”
Boudreau played 30 games for the Saints, on the third or fourth line, and had three goals and six assists.
“Good kid, but I never would have imagined him as a longtime and successful NHL coach,” Curran said. “I don’t think you could see something like that in any 19- or 20-year-old.”
I talked to a handful of ex-Saints — Curran, Butters, Westrum, Antonovich and Boucha — and all were on board with the idea of the Wild bringing in Boudreau as the next head coach.
“I hope Bruce gets the job,” Butters said. “I do have a past with him. I’d like to talk to him, and mend fences, if necessary.”
The 1975-76 season was the end of the original Saints. They folded on Feb. 28, 1976, after 59 games. There had been checks that bounced and then the players went two months playing for a share of gate receipts.
“It would be great having a former Saint coaching the Wild in St. Paul,” Belisle said. “I just hope Bruce didn’t keep any of those Saints checks that didn’t clear the bank and wants to cash them.”
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org