The life of a backup goaltender can be tough, but if anyone knows how to handle it, it’s Brian Boucher.
In signing a two-year deal with the Hurricanes on July 1, Boucher, 34, ensured that he would be switching organizations for the eighth time in his NHL career. He’s had extended runs as a starter, but most of that time was spent in the No. 2 role while he patiently waited for his turn between the pipes.
”That’s one of those things that as a backup you have to learn a little bit,” said Boucher. “Whether it’s not playing that much or having to make a bunch of starts in a row for whatever reason, I feel like I have the experience to do those things.”
He’s in for more of the same on his most recent stop, with Cam Ward clearly established as the Hurricanes’ franchise goalie. While that might not present the best chance for Boucher to get a lot of playing time, he doesn’t mind a little stability after a season in which he was part of what ended up being a three-goalie rotation for the Philadelphia Flyers – one in which a player could start one night and then find himself completely out of the lineup the next.
“Philly is a tough place to play, especially for a goaltender,” admitted Boucher, who the Flyers drafted 22nd overall in 1995. “I’ve been there on three separate occasions and enjoyed my time there, but it’s nice to go to a place where there’s not as much competition. I know my role now and I accept it, and if I can do it well it will give us a better chance of earning points and being successful.”
Boucher said that he hasn’t had direct talks with Hurricanes coaches or management about his expected workload, but that he’s read quotes from General Manager Jim Rutherford about making 20-25 starts over the course of the season. While that’s less than the 29 regular-season starts he made for the Flyers in his most recent campaign, that suits him just fine.
“It’s not a big deal for me,” he said. “I just want to go out and do a good job when I have to.”
If nothing else, he expects to ease the burden on Ward, who made a league-high 74 starts last season. As much as that number jumps off the page to the casual observer, Boucher, the experienced goaltender, may be even more amazed at that feat.
”Kudos to him – that is not an easy thing to do in this league,” he said. “It’s not like he wasn’t playing a lot of high-pressure games either. He was in the playoffs from January on. It’s not even so much about the work - it’s the mental toll of having to do that all the time that can get to you. Hopefully next year he can get rest so he can be at his best all the time.”
It may not seem like it, but by joining Carolina, Boucher has as much job security as he’s ever had in his 11-year career. He’s on his second consecutive two-year deal – something he said was a priority for him as he hit the goalie-crowded free agent market. Prior to his most recent deals, he was on a string of seldom-renewed one-year pacts that surrounded a stint on a minor-league contract in 2007-08.
If that period spent in the American Hockey League – a place he thought he had left for good following a sparkling run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals as a rookie starter with Philadelphia back in 2000 – was the low point in what Boucher himself described as a career of ups and downs, it would eventually serve as a springboard for where he is now.
“It’s all a learning experience,” he said. “You have to be disappointed, but I proved a lot to myself that I can dig deeper. I feel like I’m a much better all-around goaltender now than I was in my rookie year, even though my rookie year was probably my most successful.
“I feel like the last four seasons (since the AHL stint) have been strong seasons for me, even though the numbers haven’t always been there to back it up. I’m thankful that Carolina recognized that.”
Boucher’s play was recognized specifically by Hurricanes Assistant Coach Tom Barrasso, a former NHL goaltender who put Boucher at the top of the team’s short list on their search for a free-agent backup. While Boucher hasn’t yet had a chance to meet Barrasso, he was teammates with another member of the coaching staff, Rod Brind’Amour, when they spent part of one season as teammates in Philadelphia.
Even though that occurred 11 years ago when Boucher was just a rookie, Brind’Amour, as he did with so many others, made a lasting impression.
“I was just a youngster when he was there tearing up the weight room,” said Boucher.
Boucher has also briefly crossed paths with Derek Joslin and Tuomo Ruutu during his short stints in San Jose and Chicago, respectively. Other than that, it’s all new faces for Boucher, which is a small wonder for the well-traveled netminder, but one that should help him with a personal quest.
“I’ve been on so many teams, I think my goal is to play with everyone in the league,” he said.