Former Hastings star and Gophers hockey player Danny Welch made his professional debut for the Manchester (N.H.) Monarchs of the AHL in 2002. He was 18 games into the season when his father, Russ — Danny’s head coach in high school — made the trip out east to see his son play in the pros for the first time.
There was just one problem: After playing the first 18 games, Welch was a healthy scratch.
The next day, Welch’s first professional coach — Bruce Boudreau, the new coach of the Wild but then in the midst of working his way up the ranks — called the nervous young player into his office. To hear Danny Welch tell it now, he was worried he was about to be released — and his fears weren’t helped by the fact that Boudreau “looked like he was about to cry,” Welch said. Instead …
“[Boudreau] said, ‘Was your dad in the stands last night?’ I said it was. He asked, ‘Was this the first time he was going to see you play?’ And again I said yes,” Welch recalled. “And he was so upset. He said, ‘I made a promise that such a thing would never happen on my watch.’ He just cares about people.”
Consider Welch heavily in the pro-Boudreau camp when it comes to what he thinks of the Wild’s new boss.
“I think he’s a guy who can get the best out of the best players,” said Welch, who played three seasons under Boudreau in Manchester. “We had the leading scorer in the AHL twice. He’s really good with those guys, relaxing them. That, and he’s really good with offensive defensemen. He lets guys play with an ease. They’re not gripping their sticks.”
To that end, Welch said he thinks four Wild players in particular will flourish under Boudreau, provided they are on the roster: Mikael Granlund, Thomas Vanek, Matt Dumba and Mike Reilly.
Welch, though, was not a star on those Manchester teams. As an eighth-round NHL draft choice of the Kings in 2000 — the NHL draft doesn’t even have that many rounds any more, having been cut from nine to seven in 2005 — Welch’s role was often on a checking line.
“Our job was to play the top line. He came into the locker room and pointed to us one night in particular and said if we don’t get scored upon tonight, we win the game,” Welch said. “He helped keep us accountable. The onus was put on us, and he made me feel like I earned something.”
Welch is in the insurance business in the Twin Cities after resettling here following his final season in 2011 with the Belfast Giants of the British Elite Ice Hockey League. He played nine seasons as a pro and might not have survived that many without the early tutelage under Boudreau.
“He’s not a taskmaster,” Welch said of Boudreau, adding that he’s an extremely loyal coach. “He’s a guy where you feel really bad when you let him down. You feel really bad — almost that you did it to him because he cares so much about you.”