As his whirlwind first season as an NHL coach continues on, Guy Boucher of the Tampa Bay Lightning takes it all as it comes -- a philosophy that seems to have served him well in his meteoric rise from relative anonymity to one of the League's hottest commodities.
"As a player you always want to make the NHL, but as a coach the weird thing is I always focused on where I was and I always enjoyed where I was and I always felt that if I did a good job where I was I'd never need to leave," Boucher said while appearing as a guest on Thursday's "NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman."
"And it's because I think I focused on the present and enjoyed so much where I was that I went up through the ranks without pushing. Not that I didn't mind going up in the NHL, but the fact was that if I didn't make it to the NHL and stayed in the American League for a few years and know that I was surrounded by good people there, too, I think the fact I didn't make it a dream and I didn't make it a goal and every day in my life try to push for it, I think that's what helped me get here."
While he's the youngest coach in the League at the age of 39, it would be quite inaccurate to assume Boucher didn't face his share of challenges in arriving at this point. One of the biggest was an undisclosed illness that forced him out of hockey during his playing days at McGill University and kept him away from the game for several years.
Eventually he resurfaced as an assistant coach for his alma mater, then spent 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 coach of the Drummondville Voltigeurs and then last season’s stint behind the bench for the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League, his first season in professional hockey.
"The dream became true, I think, last year at the end of the American League season," Boucher said. "I started to hear sometimes my name come up and … at that point things started to roll real quick and I ended up in Tampa. It is a dream for anybody to get to the NHL at any level, whether it's a coach or a player or a part of the organization, so I feel very fortunate."
In the case of the Lightning, who were coming off three consecutive non-playoff seasons, Boucher may have been the newest kid on the block when it came to the team's management structure, but he was in good company. First-year GM Steve Yzerman was brought aboard by new owner Jeff Vinik, and with that triumvirate of fresh blood Tampa not only got back to the postseason but currently awaits its opponent in the Eastern Conference Finals after rallying from a 3-1 deficit to defeat Pittsburgh in the first round and then dispatching of top-seeded Washington in four straight games.
When questioned about the team's dramatic turnaround, Boucher said it started from the top.
"I think the big picture is there was a new owner in Mr. Vinik who had a vision and had a way and an attitude that certainly reflected on everybody else," Boucher said. "And obviously him hiring Mr. Yzerman and Mr. Tod Leiweke (the Lightning’s CEO and Alternate Governor) to lead, it certainly was something that turned the organization around right from day one. Last summer, a lot of things were accomplished in very little time and I think that reflected on not just the coaching staff but the leaders on the team, so it spread up throughout the entire organization and there was a culture created in very little time."
The Lightning went 46-25-11 this season for 103 points, the second-best mark in franchise history behind only the 106 amassed by the 2004 championship team. It appeared all that would be for naught after James Neal of the Penguins scored in double overtime of Game 4 to give the Penguins a sweep of the two games in Tampa and a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
"Most athletes, they tend to think of the results a little too much," Boucher said. "You turn your motivation and your activation level so high at some point because you think of the end result that you become very anxious and anxiety doesn't send you in the right direction."
The Lightning started playing loose after that and an 8-2 blowout win when facing elimination in Game 5 in Pittsburgh started them back to not only capture the series but embark on a seven-game winning streak they will carry into the next round against either the Bruins or Flyers.
Take a look at the statistical leaders for the postseason and Tampa players, both veteran and young, are all over the place. From 41-year-old goaltender Dwayne Roloson, who leads in wins, goals-against average and save percentage, to newcomer Sean Bergenheim, whose seven goals tie him for first, there were no shortage of contributors to the comeback against Pittsburgh and the domination of Washington.
While the Lightning could face a lengthy layoff while they wait for other series to be decided and the conference finals to begin, Boucher isn't concerning himself with how their momentum might be affected.
"We don't really know when we're going to start, but I think right now for the next days we felt it was really important that -- we were short-staffed, got extremely tired playing a seven-game series, that guys needed time with their families," Boucher said. "Because what we've done in the first round, basically we were on the road the whole time, even at home we went to the hotel, and we kept it a very close environment and it paid off, and now I think it's time to get back to the kids and the families and the loved ones of the players for the next two days."