ANAHEIM -- Hockey coaches are acutely aware of time because their routine is based on practices, meetings and various times for puck drop. The clock seems to find Bruce Boudreau more often than other coaches, though.
More than usual, when Boudreau glances at the clock, it happens to be 9:11 p.m. or 9:11 a.m., and it triggers him back to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He was coaching the Manchester Monarchs, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings, and he lost friends Garnet “Ace” Bailey and Mark Bavis, scouts in the organization.
“The one thing I noticed is that, when I look at the time, it’s 9:11 more than I ever noticed before,” Boudreau said. “It seems like it comes up an awful lot more than it doesn’t.”
Boudreau was supposed to be on the same plane as Bailey and Bavis, but fate intervened because a late schedule change sent him to Los Angeles a day early.
“I’ve got a picture of Ace that’s in my living room, so every time I look at it I think of him,” Boudreau said.
It’s the most emotional connection, but not the only one, Boudreau has with Manchester, and it’s part of his hockey odyssey that Boudreau, as coach of the Anaheim Ducks, is coaching against the Kings in the first Stanley Cup Playoffs matchup between the teams.
Boudreau coached Manchester from 2001 to 2005, compiling a 169-118-33 record. The Monarchs went to the playoffs each year, but each season ended with a first-round exit, including the 2004-05 season when Manchester went an AHL-best 51-21-0-8.
Boudreau was fired and went on to coach the Hershey Bears, later winning the Calder Cup. But he cited his Manchester stint as an important step in his path to becoming an NHL coach.
“It was major because I learned so much from [then Kings coach] Andy Murray, spending training camps and the summer development camps [with him],” Boudreau said. “I’d been in the minors 25 years at that point. You always think: Can you do the NHL thing? But you never knew. So when I came to the camps and you see that he’s preaching the same things that I am, and you’re going, ‘Man, maybe I do have something.’ And he was a good sounding board. If I needed something, I’d give him a call. He was very good for me.”
One of Boudreau’s players for his final season in 2004-05 was 19-year-old Dustin Brown, who is now the Kings captain. Brown played 31 games with the Kings the previous season, but he was a part-time NHL player who was still finding his game.
“I think he was the right coach for me at the time,” Brown said. “The lockout was a blessing in disguise because it gave me that year of playing at the AHL level and play a lot of minutes and learn the pro game. Having a coach that gave you a little more leeway on the offensive side of the puck and experiment [helped].
“If I was a 19-year-old in the NHL that year, you make one mistake and you’re getting sat or sent down, and that’s always in the back of your mind. The whole situation was a blessing.”
Brown didn’t remember Boudreau unleashing the R-rated language that he was later known for on the HBO program, “24/7.” He didn’t need to that season, when the Monarchs started 20-1-1 despite losing three quarters of their scoring and their top two defensemen.
“I remember he was a very positive coach,” Brown said. “That’s probably the one thing I can say about him. He kind of gave you free reign on the offensive side of the puck, but he expected you to get back to play defense. Once you get across the blue line, use your skill and your hockey sense to make plays.”
Kings defenseman Jeff Schultz had a similar experience when playing for Boudreau with Hershey and the Capitals.
“I finished my last year of junior and came there for the playoffs, and I had never had a coach like that before,” Schultz said. “Real high-energy, high intensity practices. He expected the most out of his players, and that’s what he got.
“He really helped me get to where I am … not only Bruce, but [assistant coach] Bob Woods really helped me get where I am today.”
Boudreau and his family practically adopted Manchester as a hometown and were embedded in it off the ice. He spoke of it fondly a day after the Ducks went down 2-0 in the best-of-7-series against the Kings in the Western Conference Second Round.
“We had a house,” Boudreau said. “I loved everything about Manchester. The people, the president Jeff Eisenberg and me got along real well, became a great part of the community for five years. My wife made long-lasting friends that are here today. We packed the arena all the time. I love the New England area. It was really cool.”
Boudreau goes back to Manchester in the summers for Bailey’s tournament and still retains good friends there. The peripatetic Boudreau is a famous hockey lifer, having spent most of his time as coach or player in the minor leagues. To this day, Boudreau’s five years in Manchester is the longest he has lived in one place other than his hometown of Toronto.
“It still holds the record,” he said.