Five weeks ago, in an anomaly in the NHL schedule, the Wild and Anaheim Ducks happened to be in Edmonton at the same time — the Wild practicing in the afternoon, the Ducks playing the Oilers in the evening.
Their locker rooms were 40 feet apart.
Bruce Boudreau was a nervous wreck.
“It’s like running into an ex-girlfriend. You’re wondering if you’re still friends,” Boudreau said then.
So imagine the jitters Boudreau will have Sunday when he walks into the Honda Center and coaches from the visitors’ bench for the first time since being fired as Ducks coach last April.
“Yeah, I’ll be nervous,” the first-year Wild coach said.
Every coach has his insecurities, even one with the best points percentage (.661) in NHL history for a coach with more than 208 games and one with eight division titles in nine years.
There was barely a moment last season when Boudreau didn’t think he was about to be fired by GM Bob Murray, particularly after the Ducks lost nine of their first 10 games and were shut out in five of their first eight.
“Me and my wife, we knew. We knew in November that it was going to happen,” Boudreau said. “We kept thinking, ‘OK, here’s the day, here’s the day,’ and it never happened. He never fired me.
“Then we started to get on a roll [27-7-4 in their final 38], but we still knew anything short of winning of the Stanley Cup that we weren’t going to be there because the year before we lost in the conference finals and he didn’t give me a vote of approval.
“He said right after the game, ‘I’m going to evaluate the coaches,’ and I’m going, ‘We win the division, are one or two points behind the President’s Trophy winner and go to the conference final and lose to the Stanley Cup champion, and you can’t get a vote of approval?’ You knew you were in trouble.”
So after the Ducks lost to Nashville, the seventh Game 7 loss of Boudreau’s career, he knew he was toast.
“We outshot them [37-20],” Boudreau said. “When I got fired, [Murray] said, ‘Well, you kept losing Game 7s.’ I said, ‘Well, we should have won yesterday.’ ”
Boudreau was hired by the Wild a week later, and Murray brought back the coach Boudreau replaced, Randy Carlyle.
“I wasn’t surprised … because he was at almost every one of our games all year long,” Boudreau said of Carlyle. “He’s always been one of Bob’s best friends, and I knew they continued to talk and he lived in San Diego.”
Boudreau has no hard feelings toward Carlyle, a friend and former teammate, saying: “He deserved to get back in the game. He’s a good guy and knows Bob … and his idiosyncrasies, so I didn’t think anybody else would be as good a fit as that.”
The affable Boudreau got along famously with Ducks staffers — from the guy that runs the arena, to the team services folks, to the Ducks’ longtime head of media relations, to the director of player personnel whom he was best man for nearly 40 years ago.
He hopes to see them all Sunday. But he admits the awkwardness of being back will provide the same “weird feeling” he had the first time he returned to Washington after being fired by the Capitals.
What makes him especially nervous? “When we played Washington the first time, I remember seeing how fast [Alex] Ovechkin really was, how strong he really was, because when you see it every day, you just take it as a normal thing.
“So that keeps creeping in my mind: How good will [Ryan] Getzlaf, [Corey] Perry, [Ryan] Kesler and [Cam] Fowler be?”
Boudreau has plenty of special memories in Anaheim, like rallying last season “after everybody gave us up for dead” and seeing the growth of young players.
“Like Getz, he was a great captain for me,” Boudreau said. “We talked a lot. A lot of times he gave me advice, and I thought it was great. I think I treated them all well. Whether I was tough enough or strict enough, I don’t know.”
He added with a chuckle: “I really liked them a lot. I don’t know, behind closed doors, they might have thought I was a goof.”
Boudreau has proved to be adaptable coach in Minnesota, where the Wild doesn’t have the size, physicality or star power of his former teams.
But, almost halfway though the season, the Wild is contending for a division title.
“I’m who I am, and I don’t deviate from that,” Boudreau said. “I don’t pretend to be somebody I’m not. That goes a long way with players.”
Boudreau is in the midst of conducting individual meetings with every Wild player. This has been his practice for years.
“One of the players today was telling me he appreciated how honest I was to him,” Boudreau said. “I thought, ‘OK, thank you.’ When I played, especially at the NHL level, the coaches never talked to you, the GMs never talked to you. I never wanted to be like that.”
Boudreau turns 62 Monday. A victory in Anaheim would be one heck of a present from his new team.
“They call the California swing the NHL’s Bermuda Triangle,” Boudreau said. “I know how hard a trip this if for every team, especially when you play L.A. first and Anaheim second. That second game is always the hard game because of the physicality of the game before. And Randy has Anaheim playing great.
“So I just want to see us at our best.”
WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
Sunday: 7 p.m. at Anaheim
Thursday: 7 p.m. vs. Montreal
Saturday: 7 p.m. at Dallas
Sun., Thurs. NBCSN; Sat. FSN
Player to watch: Shea Weber, Canadiens
Ryan Suter’s former defense partner in Nashville is second among NHL defensemen in goal scoring.
“That’s the stupidest statement I’ve heard in life. After 40 games, I’ve got to believe they’re pretty well entrenched with what they’re doing.”
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, upset that a Ducks reporter asserted that Anaheim — which recently gave up 55 shots — still has a tendency for defensive breakdowns dating to Boudreau’s tenure.