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Players love coach Boudreau's laid-back demeanor

Friday, 02.20.2009 / 1:00 AM / NHL on NBC Spotlight

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

With all due respect to the late Johnny Cash, there happens to be an NHL coach who can also "walk the line."

And while Bruce Boudreau may only be in his first full season behind the bench for the Washington Capitals, don't let the placid demeanor and warm-hearted smile fool you. He commands the attention and respect of every player on the roster.

"Bruce walks the fine line between being your friend and being an authority figure; he's got that figured out," Capitals wing Brooks Laich told NHL.com. "Guys really respect him for that and play hard for him."

Tomas Fleischmann's relationship with Boudreau goes much deeper.

"He's like your father or your grandpa," Fleischmann said. "He doesn't yell or scream and he's such a calm guy. You can talk about anything with him and he gives you so much confidence. He has good speeches."

Boudreau's coaching style will be on display Sunday when the Capitals meet the Pittsburgh Penguins (12:30 p.m. ET) on the NHL on NBC.

"Sure, he'll yell now and again, but everything he says is always right and makes sense," standout defenseman Mike Green said. "He doesn't just say things for the sake of saying it. Every word has a purpose."

At the time Boudreau replaced Glen Hanlon as interim coach on Nov. 22, 2007, the Caps were 6-14-1 and at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Five months later, he was celebrating a 3-1 victory against the Florida Panthers that gave the Capitals their first Southeast Division title in seven years and first Stanley Cup playoff berth in five. As icing on the cake, he was presented the Jack Adams Award as the NHL coach of the year in June.

This season, the Capitals are second in the Eastern Conference with 37 wins and 79 points.

"Bruce has the ability to look at a player and immediately determine their ability and how he'll fair in the NHL," Laich said. "He's a coach who will always give his players confidence, first and foremost, and, if you make a mistake, he understands. Let's face it, we're playing against some very good players and mistakes will happen. But Bruce will put you right back on the ice and, for a young player that gives so much confidence."

Second-season forward David Steckel enjoys playing for a coach like Boudreau.

"When it's time to work, we work and he can walk that fine line," Steckel said. "He approaches hockey with the mindset that if you're not having fun, it's not going to be fun coming to the rink and playing. He can differentiate the two and he's a laid-back guy because he knows most of us from his days coaching Hershey.

"He knows when it's time to be a little loose but when it's time to tighten up, he knows the right buttons to push."

Boudreau coached championship teams in the American Hockey League and the ECHL and was in his third year as the head coach of the Hershey Bears, Washington's AHL affiliate, when he was promoted to D.C. He says having fun is critical to nurturing the chemistry on any team.

"Winning and having fun go hand in hand," Boudreau said. "Winning is fun for anyone who's competitive. We want to have fun and want to be a close-knit team, but the most fun you can have is when you're winning. If you look at teams that are losing, they're probably not having a lot of fun. But teams winning want to come to the rink every morning and work hard because they know what the end result is going to be."

"I think he makes us feel relaxed and patient," center Nicklas Backstrom said. "Game time means it's time to get serious. He runs a good system for the team and everybody understands it and we play the way we can."

For young players such as defenseman Karl Alzner, Boudreau has made the NHL experience unforgettable.

"He gives guys days off when you need it and when it's possible," Alzner said. "It's nice because it gives you a chance to get some rest and be with the family. At the same time, he holds guys accountable so if you don't do your job, he's going to let you know that something has to change. And you don't want to get into any trouble with the big man because it'll come down pretty hard."

Capitals defenseman Tom Poti admits it's easy to play hard for a coach who also happens to be such a likeable human being.

"How could you not want to go out and play hard and win for him because he's an awesome guy," Poti said. "He let's you play to your abilities and play to your strengths and he doesn't hold guys back. He lets you do what you know how to do. He's a breathe of fresh air and the moment he got in here, he had the mindset of 'We're done losing.' It's fun and exciting to play for him."

For Green, who is in the midst of a career season, there's no one better for which to play.

"When Bruce came here, our team became a completely different team, and he was the reason," Green said. "It's not like we changed any players. We just got a new coach. We had a bit of guidance that led us to be successful. I've known Bruce now for three, four years, and, you know, he's one of the best coaches I've ever been coached by. It's hard to say I'll ever have a better coach than him."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.


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