When Bruce Boudreau steps behind a big-league bench for the very first time Friday night in Philadelphia, nobody will be able to accuse him of being fast-tracked to the NHL.
“That’s probably the term that would be furthest from the truth,” the Washington Capitals new interim coach told thehockeynews.com Thursday night. “But sometimes the tortoise wins the race.”
Funny he should mention that, because a tortoise is about the only thing in Boudreau’s hockey career that he hasn’t been at one time or another.
Boudreau does, however, have pretty much every other species of beast covered. At various times during a 32-year playing and coaching career, Boudreau has been a Tiger, a Roadrunner, a Spider, a Sea Wolf, a Lock Monster, a Monarch and a Bear – not to mention a Jet, a Fighting Saint (and just a Saint), a Blackhawk (and a Black Hawk), a Maple Leaf, an Oiler, an Indian, a Komet, a Red Wing and a Fury (whatever that is). He has also been an ECD, as in Iserholn ECD in Germany, where he spent the 1984-85 season.
All of which is a rather cheeky way of saying Boudreau has been around the block more than once.
As a standout minor league player, Boudreau played in 16 different cities in six leagues and three countries. As a coach, he has been in seven different cities in four leagues.
Make that eight in five now that the Capitals saw fit to promote him from the American League’s Hershey Bears to replace the fired Glen Hanlon behind the Capitals bench.
It’s funny how quickly things can change. Thursday night, Boudreau was speaking from his room in the fancy-schmacy Loews Hotel in Philadelphia. He was supposed to be in Philly on Friday anyway because the Bears are playing the Phantoms, but the minor league team will skate at home Friday morning before making the two-hour bus trip to Philadelphia.
Of course, it was only fitting the Capitals would name Boudreau an interim coach. Certainly wouldn’t want to give the guy a sense of security, now would they? Actually, it makes sense, since Capitals GM George McPhee is also on thin ice. Should he be fired this summer, the new guy coming in likely wouldn’t want to be committed to a coach he didn’t hire.
But for a guy who was called up and sent down 26 times during his tenure in the Maple Leafs organization, Boudreau doesn’t seem to mind the designation.
“Actually, I think it was a smart move,” Boudreau said. “If I had been George (Capitals GM McPhee) I would have done the same thing. I’m sure he has some confidence I can do the job or he wouldn’t have brought me here in the first place, but I also know he probably wants to see how things go the rest of this season.
“Now it’s up to me and I absolutely want to do everything I can to have that interim tag removed from my name. (Philadelphia Flyers coach) John Stevens was an interim coach and he proved it to Philadelphia.”
Boudreau’s odyssey in the hockey world began after a prolific junior career when he starred with the Toronto Marlies and played on two Memorial Cup teams. He was drafted by the WHA’s Minnesota Fighting Saints in 1974 and the Toronto Maple Leafs in ’75, but never stuck in either league largely because his attitude and level of conditioning never matched his level of talent.
He began bouncing around the minors almost immediately and by the time his playing career was done, he had played a total of 1,253 games, 1,053 in the minors, 141 in the NHL, 30 in the WHA and 29 in Germany. He finished his career with 599 goals and 1,492 points.
From there he went to coaching where he compiled an impressive 533-368-144 record in 1,045 games for a .579 winning percentage and league championships in both the ECHL and AHL. But it never seemed to be enough to get him even a sniff of an NHL job until the Capitals called his number Thursday morning.
“Sometimes you get thinking that it’s never going to be you,” Boudreau said. “But I’m certainly not bitter. I love being part of the hockey world and I’ve loved everywhere I’ve been. But I have to say I was tickled pink when I got the call from Washington and sometimes still I’ve had to give my head a shake.”
Just how long has Boudreau been around? Well, consider that he’s probably watched Slap Shot more than any living person in history, not that he’d have to because he lived it. The Johnstown Jets were the Minnesota Fighting Saints farm team and when the movie was being shot in 1975, Boudreau was in his rookie pro season and was used for many of the on-ice scenes.
No speaking role, though.
“I pretty much just hung around the camera – I was a bit of a hot dog,” Boudreau said. “I show it to my kids now just to prove to them that one day I had hair.”
Boudreau said he never bought a house when he was a player; otherwise he would have been more involved in real estate transactions than Donald Trump. But once he started coaching, he bought a home in every city in which he coached, meaning he has owned property in Fort Wayne, Muskegon, San Francisco, Biloxi, Manchester and Hershey.
When he coached the Lowell Lock Monsters of the AHL, he lived in Manchester, then joined the Manchester Monarchs. The five years he lived in Manchester is the longest he has stayed in one place since living in Toronto with his parents.
So how long before he buys a home in Washington?
“I think that’s a little premature,” he said.