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Top 100 Goalies: No. 73 — Dan Bouchard

He had too much fire to his game as a Flame. Then religion turned him into a cool customer.

It was only Dan Bouchard’s fourth game as a pro when he spotted him, Frank Mahovlich, the ‘Big M’ himself, flying in down the wing.

Bouchard crouched back in his net. He had been a goalie all his life, but on this night, Oct. 12, 1972, inside the old Montreal Forum, that didn’t stack up too much. He was still just 21, a kid tasked with anchoring the brand-new Atlanta Flames, and hockey royalty was coming at him. Fast.

The game meant plenty to Bouchard. While he was born in Val-d’Or, Que., he’d grown up in Montreal, and now he was faced with stopping one of the Canadiens’ great scorers. He narrowed his eyes as Mahovlich skated to the top of the circle, reared back and let it fly. The puck zoomed past Bouchard and into the net.

After the goal, Mahovlich cruised by Bouchard. “Great shot there, Frank,” the goalie told him. “Great shot, Mr. Mahovlich.” Bouchard relishes telling the tale. “Thank you,” Mahovlich replied. “You’ll be around a long time if you have that attitude.”

It was a kind moment in a career that lasted 15 NHL seasons, first with the Flames in Atlanta and then Calgary, and later with the Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets. But Bouchard is remembered much differently today, as a respected veteran as he closed out his time in hockey, but also as a much more contentious, more argumentative player during his earlier days on the ice. “I kind of had two careers,” he said.

Bouchard, now 67, was a successful college coach for more than a decade. But he’s happy to dig back into it all, into the time in which he was “very confrontational,” and also later into the time when he changed his life, found spiritual happiness and became a better man, husband, father and teammate.

He began with the Boston Bruins, drafted in 1970 after playing net in junior for the QMJHL Sorel Black Hawks and OHL London Knights, and spent two years in the AHL. He was claimed by the Flames in the 1972 expansion draft, and off he went south, to Atlanta, to debut in a new home and also for a team new to the league. He played very well for the Flames, leading the NHL in wins in 1978-79, but Atlanta was always limited in its success.

The Flames made it out of the first round just once during Bouchard’s eight-and-a-half years with the team, and in 12 playoff games in Atlanta, Bouchard had just one victory.

The losses weighed on him, and as a young player Bouchard was ill-equipped to handle teammates whom he perceived to be taking the sport lightly. He demanded perfection, expecting those he shared a dressing room with to sacrifice like he was, to get their rest and arrive for games in top shape, ready to win. When they didn’t, when he saw guys he believed to be playing only for their paycheque, he could blow his top. “Sometimes I would be very, very boisterous to people,” Bouchard said. “I was very outspoken. I would not be afraid to tell a guy (what he needed to do).”

He was a good goalie, yet he developed a poor reputation in hockey. Things got so bad that once, when he asked Flames GM Cliff Fletcher for a trade, there wasn’t much Fletcher could tell him. “Nobody really wants you,” Fletcher said. “You’re always complaining.”

But during his final year in Atlanta, before the team moved to Calgary in 1980, something changed in Bouchard. As a child, he was raised around religion, brought up Catholic as an altar boy but one that chose to spend his time in church pulling pranks on the priest. Yet as he neared his 30s, for the first time, Bouchard sought more than religion. He wanted a personal relationship with God.

He devoted himself to the Lord and found his personality transformed. “I became less judgmental,” Bouchard said. “My priorities changed. Hockey became more of a game. There was less stress.”

Bouchard mellowed. He played out his career as a much more supportive teammate, and while playoff success continued to elude him – he is tied for 40th all-time in goalie wins but won just 13 of 43 career post-season games – his legacy was repaired.

He is recalled today not simply as a hothead but also as a goalie at the forefront of many trends – one of the first netminders to paint his mask and one of the first to wear multi-colored pads to give shooters the illusion his five-hole was larger than it really was. When Patrick Roy was a kid in Quebec, of all the goalies it was Bouchard he idolized most.

After he retired, having played a handful of games in Switzerland, Bouchard turned his attention to coaching. First, he coached the Nordiques’ netminders, and then, for 11 years starting in 1995, he guided the men’s team at Life University in Marietta, Ga. The Running Eagles captured five ACHA Div. II championships under his watch. Bouchard, who lives with his wife of 45 years, Janet, found himself to be a compassionate coach, always encouraging his players but rarely screaming their way.

It’s a lesson he learned some 35 years ago, that the way he acted in life always came back around to him. To live with true happiness, whether in life or in hockey, there was a creed he had come to forever hold dear. “You reap,” Bouchard said, “what you sow.”

Born: Dec. 12, 1950, Val-d’Or, Que.
NHL Career: 1972-86
Teams: Atl/Cgy, Que, Wpg
Stats: 286-232-113, 3.26 GAA, .890 SP, 27 SO

DID YOU KNOW?

Since 1957, only seven NHL goalies – Billy Smith (20), Al Smith (7), Sean Burke (6), Doug Favell (6), Gerry Cheevers (5), Ron Hextall (5) and Dunc Wilson (5) – have had more fights than Bouchard’s four, according to hockeyfights.com. The quartet of players to feel Bouchard’s wrath: Gilles Gilbert, Bobby Clarke, Rick St. Croix and, ironically, Larry Playfair. Bouchard is 10th all-time in penalty minutes amongst NHL goalies.

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