Talk to a half-dozen of Bruce Boudreau’s friends and, without fail, they all describe the new Wild coach the same way: “an everyman … unassuming … not a self-promoter … no ego … honest … just a good, good guy.”
He’s nicknamed “Gabby” for a reason. He’ll “talk your ear off … fun-loving … wears his heart on his sleeve … cares about everybody … lives, eats and breathes hockey every second … loves what he does.”
And they all say Wild fans “hit the jackpot” and covering the Wild “just became the best beat in the league” because the “Twin Cities media hit the lottery” with the arrival of the very quotable character that is Bruce Boudreau.
Asked if all these descriptions are spot-on, Boudreau said, “Yeah … I think that’s me.”
“I’m pretty genuine, and that really comes from 33 years in the minors,” Boudreau said. “You can’t think too much of yourself when you’re in the minors every year. I’ve played and coached in Muskegon and Biloxi, Mississippi, and some places where hockey never saw the light of day.
“In the minors, it’s all about promotion, promotion, promotion of the team and I just continue to do that in the NHL. I don’t think I’ve changed, which is the way my wife likes it.”
The definition of a career journeyman, Boudreau had a dizzying playing and coaching career full of address changes. But he was also one the best minor league players in history and is near the top of the charts in American Hockey League coaching victories.
The only reason he never climbed higher than ninth in that category is because he ultimately was promoted to the NHL, where he became the fastest coach in history to amass 400 NHL wins, between Washington and Anaheim.
He’s a true character.
Go to YouTube and check out his unforgettable HBO “24/7” motivational diatribe from his days with the Capitals. Besides showing an amazing versatility to sprinkle four-letter words into different connotations, he had some awesome lines like, “What are you guys, like prima donna perfect?” and “If you want it, don’t just think you want it, go out there and … want it.”
The ultimate storyteller, Boudreau penned an entertaining book of stories from his years in the game called, “Gabby: Confessions of a Hockey Lifer.”
He can be fiery. He displayed that opening night three years ago in the final seconds of a blowout loss to Colorado. Upset that Patrick Roy was screaming at his star player, Corey Perry, a red-faced Boudreau spit fire at the Avalanche coach through a fragile pane of glass between the benches that Roy tried to topple over.
Making the Show
Boudreau is awfully proud of his brief role in the hockey classic movie “Slap Shot.’’ While playing for the now-defunct North American Hockey League Johnstown Jets, Boudreau wore a green No. 7 sweater playing for the fictional Hyannisport Presidents against the Hanson Brothers and the Charlestown Chiefs.
“It’s all crazy,” Boudreau said. “That was 40 years ago and no one would have thunk that the movie would have had an impact like it did. As years go by, more people talk about it all the time.”
The apartment where Paul Newman’s character, Reg Dunlop, lived in the movie was Boudreau’s actual apartment.
“George Roy Hill was the director and he came into the dressing room and says, ‘Who has the worst, messiest apartment on the team?’ And they all pointed to me,” Boudreau said, laughing.
After retiring as a player in 1992, Boudreau jumped into the coaching world and spent 16 years in the minors before cracking the NHL.
The Capitals got off to a 6-14-1 start in 2007-08. Glen Hanlon was fired, and Boudreau, who coached Hershey to the Calder Cup in 2006, replaced him in November. By Christmas, Boudreau’s interim label was removed. Alex Ovechkin went on to score 65 goals, win the Hart Trophy and the Capitals ended up winning the division with Boudreau grabbing the Jack Adams Trophy as Coach of the Year.
“Bruce is a very humble, normal guy. That’s why people love him,” said Saskatoon Blades General Manager and coach Bob Woods, who took over for Boudreau in Hershey and wound up guiding the Bears to a Calder Cup the following year before joining his pal on Washington’s bench. “He cares about hockey, he loves hockey, he thinks about it 24/7. It’s his life. He carries that passion with him and the players feed off that.”
Ducks GM Bob Murray, who fired Boudreau on April 29, took the unusual step of issuing a congratulatory statement when Boudreau landed the Wild job.
“He was a coach who really cared about you as a player and a person,” Ducks center Ryan Kesler said. “I think that’s rare to find nowadays. Every day, he’d ask you how your day was the day before. He’s a quality guy.”
Boudreau has an ability to hold players accountable while also being the quintessential players’ coach. Friends and former colleagues say it’s his honesty.
“He has an open-door policy,” said former Ducks assistant coach Brad Lauer, now an assistant in Tampa Bay. “He’s very, very honest with you as a player. That’s what players really like. There’s no gray area. You’re not in the lineup, he’ll tell you exactly why you’re not in the lineup. You’re not playing well, he’ll tell you why you’re not playing well.”
Woods says Boudreau has a natural way of getting through to players that has led to a career .659 points percentage and eight division titles in nine years.
“He’s a great motivator. He’s a guy that makes his teams believe,” Woods said. “You look at some of the teams we had, he turned them into contenders, and that’s because he communicates well.
“He allows his skilled players to be skilled and creative and doesn’t put the handcuffs on, but he also demands that they’re responsible as well. He just has a way of putting things together that makes sense, of making guys believe that anything’s possible.”
The Wild lacks the star power Boudreau had in Washington and Anaheim. With midseason swoons the past three season, it also lacked the consistency that has defined Boudreau’s team.
“You’ve got to have your guys, especially your stars and leaders, buying in and believing what you’re preaching, and Bruce has a habit of doing that,” Woods said. “It’s how you deal with them. Bruce talks about the ruts and the grooves and not dwelling on them so much. Staying the course and knowing if you stick with it, you’ll get out of it.”
In Anaheim last season, the Ducks got off to a 1-7-2 start and were shut out five times in the first eight games. In November, Boudreau completely overhauled his up-tempo system to an extreme trap.
“The irony of him being fired is I think this was his finest piece of coaching work since he got here,” Ducks color analyst Brian Hayward said. “To be able to change everything on the fly and have the players, the star players on this team, buy in to trying to win games 1-0, which they did for about a month, it was amazing. And then the goals started pouring in.”
The Ducks had the NHL’s best record in the second half of the season, averaged nearly four goals a game during that stretch and ended up winning the division for a fourth straight year.
Boudreau loves offense and coaches a system fans should love.
“It’s aggressive. It’s fun. It’s fun hockey to play and fun hockey to watch,” Woods said. “You’re not trapping, you’re not sitting back, you’re going after teams. You’re putting teams under pressure. And the skills guys buy into it because when you’re playing it properly, you get all kinds of opportunities.”
The next step
Boudreau said the next couple of months will play a big factor in what type of system he puts into place with a smaller, faster team lacking a proven game-breaker. He will sit down with GM Chuck Fletcher to go over the roster and potential offseason moves; Fletcher admits he’ll be looking to upgrade personnel through the trade and free-agency routes.
“I may have to adapt,” Boudreau said. “I use the example: Freddie Shero, when he was with the Broad Street Bullies [in Philadelphia], he had the toughest, meanest group in the world, but when he went to the Rangers, they had the least penalized team in the league.”
The Wild is also a team that seems to have chemistry issues, something Fletcher at least somewhat acknowledged when he talked about generational differences.
“If there are issues in the locker room, Bruce is a guy that brings the guys together,” Hayward said. “He’s a big believer in that. There’s not a lot of cliques in the Ducks room, for example. That’s kind of his M.O.”
John Torchetti, who on an interim basis pushed the Wild into the playoffs for a fourth straight year, was disappointed Saturday he didn’t get the job. It’s premature at this point whether he returns to AHL Iowa or stays with the organization in another capacity.
Fletcher told SiriusXM NHL Network Radio on Monday that his guess was Torchetti would have gotten the full-time job if Boudreau wasn’t fired.
“When Bruce became available, it changed the landscape,” Fletcher said. “My obligation is to find the best guy, and guys like Bruce don’t come around every day.”