Just over a year ago, Bruce Boudreau felt the disappointment of seeing his Hershey Bears fall three wins short of a second straight Calder Cup championship as the top team in the AHL. Having led the Bears to the Calder finals for the second consecutive year in as many seasons behind the Hershey bench, he was preparing for his 15th season as a head coach in the minor leagues, a career that includes more than 1,000 games in three different minor leagues and championships in both the ECHL and the AHL.
At that stage, it was highly unlikely that Boudreau would find himself as a nominee for the 2008 Jack Adams Award, but not only did Boudreau earn a nomination, he won the Adams. He joins Philadelphia’s Bill Barber as just the second NHL head coach ever to win the Adams while coaching just part of an NHL season. Boudreau also becomes just the second Caps coach to win the Adams, joining Bryan Murray, who won it in 1984.
“I’m definitely the least likely,” said Boudreau just before the Awards Show got underway. “This has been quite a whirlwind. It was about a year ago today that we lost out [for the Calder Cup]. Who would have thunk that I’d be here? It’s been a tremendous experience for me. It’s something unexpected, but I’m very grateful that it happened. I’m looking forward to a great night.”
For Boudreau, it turned out to be a great night. He was named coach of the year in the now defunct International Hockey League in 1994, but never gained such recognition in his many years in the ECHL and AHL. To make the night even sweeter, Boudreau won the Adams in his hometown of Toronto where he played his junior hockey and where he began his NHL playing career with the Maple Leafs.
“I really haven’t thought about it that it’s my hometown,” said Boudreau. “Right now, it’s more of just basking in all the experience of meeting these great athletes and coaches and luminaries. It’s something that I haven’t done in 33 years, so it’s something you dream about but never think it’s going to happen. But now it’s here so let’s see where it goes.”
It went well.
“The big guy up there is saying, ‘Okay, he waited a long time. Let’s get it all together now,’ Boudreau said. “The one thing I want to do is enjoy and remember this. I’ve known a lot of people where this has happened right off the bat and they think, ‘This is going to happen every year,’ and they never get another chance.
“With the ability and the stature of the great coaches in our sport, to be one of three nominated is a really great honor. Next year, who knows what is going to happen? There are so many great coaches; you may never get here again. It’s something that you want to be able to tell your kids. You want to take a picture to show that you were around. Besides, no one sees me in a tux.”
“Nice one, too,” said one of the reporters, complimenting Boudreau’s threads.
“The night is early,” quipped the Caps’ bench boss.
Boudreau’s Adams award coupled with Alex Ovechkin
’s record hardware haul has helped give the Caps some cachet in and around the league.
“I think we have arrived,” said Boudreau. “I think in the last 60 games we were one of the top four or five teams in the NHL record-wise. I think the way the people reacted in the last 10 games at home, they know we’ve arrived as well.
“We’re a pretty good team. We’ve got a lot of good young players. If we can keep the group together, I think we’re going to be a pretty competitive team for years to come. As long as you have No. 8 and Nicky [Backstrom] leading the way, you’ve got young players you can build your team around. It’s a good thing. I think in the last 20 games of the season the rest of the hockey world and the rest of the people who watch it started to realize that the Washington Capitals are a pretty good hockey team.”
After toiling for a decade and a half as a coach in the minors, Boudreau ascended to the Adams after just 61 games, the second fewest by any Adams-winning coach. Named to his current post on an interim basis on Nov. 22, Boudreau led the Caps to a 37-17-7 record the rest of the way. The team’s fast finish resulted in its first division title in seven years. Boudreau had the “interim” tag removed from his title on Dec. 26 and was inked to a multi-year extension at season’s end.
And he’s already chomping at the bit to get back behind the Washington bench. He recently finished putting the finishing touches on his plans for the team’s summer development camp, to be held at Kettler Capitals Iceplex from July 7-12.
“It’s actually really exciting,” exudes Boudreau. “The summer camp, putting that all together was really exciting for me. Last week, I put the practice program together well in advance. And once I got into that mode, it was like, ‘Let’s get going!’
“Sometimes you’re like, ‘Oh, this is so great out here golfing.’ And then once you start talking hockey, you go, ‘Okay, I want to start again.’ That’s the way it is. I’ve thought a little bit about training camp, but I won’t be putting things together until I find out how many people [Caps general manager] George [McPhee] wants to invite and what the format is. Now once I get the format … say for example you have 51 people invited to camp, so you have three teams, I know exactly how I would do it. Or if there were 45 players and you only had two teams, I know how I would do that. Or if there were 75 guys like in the old days, I know how I would want that done. As soon as I have the format, it will be done.
“The one thing I do know is that it will be very well organized and it will be very well scripted. I’ll know from day one how many games I want these guys to play, and what games that they’re to play. I’m never known – I don’t think – as a very organized guy, but I’m pretty organized when it comes to that stuff.”
Boudreau is known as an enthusiastic guy – especially when it comes to hockey – as the above quote illustrates. He is itching to show that enthusiasm on a bigger stage.
“I’m dying for a coach to jump on the pile when they win the Cup,” he said tonight.
Will you jump into the pile when the Caps win the Cup?
“Oh yeah,” he replied. “I did it when we won the Calder Cup. I went right in and jumped right into the top of the pile. Nearly crushed three guys for life. I had my three-inch vertical leap and my shirt was all out.”
Caps fans can’t wait for that scenario to play itself out.