June 10, 2010 was, as expected, an emotional, heartfelt, whirlwind day for Guy and Marsha Boucher. Together for 13 years, hockey's newest coach and his engineer wife cried it out when the Tampa Bay Lightning
officially brought him aboard.
"Really, it was an emotional time when I signed with Tampa," Boucher told NHL.com. "Everything we have seen over the years and have gone through together, it was rewarding for her as much as it was for me."
Boucher has never gotten a paycheck for a job in the NHL until now. He came from humble and incredibly hard-luck beginnings and turned himself into one of the fastest rising coaching phenoms in the business, though to him it felt like a slow crawl to the NHL.
He's only 39, the youngest of all 30 head coaches in the League, but he's got a point.
There was the virus he contracted in his early 20s that crushed his first hockey dream and forced him to leave his promising playing career in the dust. There was his short stint as an assistant at McGill University, when he simultaneously battled the still undisclosed virus that basically disabled the right side of his body.
There were his six seasons as an assistant coach in the QMJHL, years bridged by a three-year stint coaching in the Midget AAA Development League.
Finally, there were his three seasons as a head coach for the Drummondville Voltigeurs and then his stint last season behind the bench for the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League, his only season in professional hockey.
Along the way Boucher built an even deeper relationship with Marsha. She and their children -- 8-year-old Vincent and 6-year-old twin daughters Naomi and Mila -- witnessed him morph into one of the most sought-after coaches of the 2010 offseason despite never holding down a single job in the NHL beforehand.
Fifty-two wins with the Bulldogs last season helped his NHL dream come true.
"You have to get in there for the first time at some point and I think Guy is ready to do that," first-year Lightning GM Steve Yzerman
told NHL.com. "He'll adjust and he'll figure things out as he goes along. No question it's different here, but he'll figure it out."
He likely will because he's just a tad different than the rest.
There isn't another coach in the NHL (probably never has been) that can boast of educational studies in sports psychology, biosystems engineering, environmental biology and history. Very few have had a life-altering experience such as the one Boucher had when the virus attacked him some 15 years ago.
"I remember when we went on the road in McGill, he would coach and sleep," Montreal forward and former McGill University Redmen Mathieu Darche
told NHL.com. "For two to three years they never figured out what it was, and he had to stop playing out of necessity. I don't know which is more tiring, coaching or playing."
If you coach the way Boucher does, it is the more exhausting endeavor. Boucher has sculpted a reputation as an outside-the-box thinker, a philosophical coach. The word unorthodox follows him around.
"I don't think he's unorthodox," Yzerman said. "I think he's innovative."
Boucher's ideas and his systems, Darche said, are just different. Darche would know, too, because he's been friends with Boucher for 20 years and has played under him on separate occasions -- when he was starting out as an assistant at McGill and last season in Hamilton.
Stats are not Boucher's friend. Sometimes he refuses to look at them because "they're the biggest lie."
"The big thing I find is every day, it's a new day," Boucher said. "You can look at your stats and find that some guy is doing well, but that particular day he's also just playing awful. So, I try to stay away from stats and try to make the day a new day. You never know which guy is going to be your best player every night, and I try to let the players know that."
Boucher will push the Lightning to be aggressive offensively. He will make his defensemen get involved in all three zones.
"My defensemen are always active," he said.
Boucher prefers to play seven defensemen and 11 forwards because he finds the blueliners get hurt more often than forwards and having an extra is a valuable commodity.
"With today's game being a fast-paced game and with the kind of refereeing we get now the faster players are able to keep their speed in the neutral zone going into the opponent's zone," Boucher said. "That means your defensemen are going to get a lot of speed coming at them and when they get pounded it's with a lot of speed."
Boucher will test his players -- yes, even guys like Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis
and Steven Stamkos
-- on their abilities to be bold and enterprising, especially on the power play.
"I like to challenge the players with things that are probably daring because I really believe the more we challenge our players the more they give you," Boucher said. "I try to challenge them and give them something to work with that might be interesting to them."
Yzerman compares Boucher to Mike Babcock, another McGill grad and one of Boucher's mentors along with Bob Gainey, Jean Pronovost, Jacques Lemaire
and Pat Quinn
. Babcock bounced around the hockey universe for years before finally landing in the NHL in 2002.
"He tries things and he's not afraid to say 'if this ain't working, we're going to change it,'" Yzerman said of Boucher. "One thing that has made Mike Babcock such a successful coach is he's always learning, listening, analyzing and thinking of better ways to do things while also looking back on situations and thinking about how he could have made them better."
Darche called Boucher "a tireless worker." He told a story of how last year the Bulldogs were sleeping during a seven-hour bus ride from Grand Rapids, a ride that would take them into a four-day All-Star break, but Boucher refused to rest.
"We got to Hamilton at 4:30 in the morning and there was Guy sitting in the front seat of the bus, his laptop open, watching the game," Darche said. "He'll go on two hours of sleep if he has to. He'll do what it takes."
When he was sick as an assistant coach with McGill, Darche said Boucher would "coach and sleep, coach and sleep."
Boucher expects his players to have similar commitment to doing things the right way in order to breed success.
"He creates habits," Darche added. "Even if you do a shooting drill in warm-ups, you don't come up, lift one leg, drag and then shoot. With him it's full speed, speed, speed and shoot. In practice everything is game speed. He blows the whistle to end a drill and you have to sprint to the boards. He blows the whistle to start a drill, and you have to sprint to your spots as he counts down five, four, three, two, one ... and the drill starts. It's high-tempo, game habits. He has his ways and he's had success."
"I don't think he's unorthodox. I think he's innovative."
-- Steve Yzerman on Guy Boucher
Boucher won't change just because the names now read Lecavalier, St. Louis and Stamkos.
"He's a normal guy, just a very intense individual," Darche said. "When he gets mad he reminds me of Maurice Richard
, at least from what I read. You see pictures of Richard with his eyes popping out of his head because he's so intense, and Guy has that. That's his best quality."
It's a quality, Darche said, that players respect because Boucher's tactics, his systems and his personality demand it. He's a players' coach.
"I know there were fourth-line guys last season that played three shifts a game but after the game they would feel good about themselves because Guy would mention them and make them feel their contributions were just as important as the next guy," Darche said. "He's got a way of dealing with the players. I keep telling my buddies, if you have a pool this season take Vinny because Guy is going to get Vinny going. His strength is to get players going."
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