Guy Boucher is sitting behind his desk at the practice facility of the Tampa Bay Lightning, picking idly at a plate of mixed vegetables. He's in the midst of his second season as coach and unlike the first season, when the team exceeded all expectations and fell one game short of making the Stanley Cup Final, this season has been much more difficult.
"Adversity, adversity, adversity," is how Boucher described it.
On June 10, 2010, Boucher became the seventh head coach in Tampa Bay Lightning history, and the first to be named to the position without any previous NHL playing or coaching experience.
Steve Yzerman told me when we started, before the first season, that this would be a long process -- there are a lot of things to do, depth to build, all kinds of things, so I wasn't in it for the short fix. I was in for the long run and understood the need for patience. - Guy Boucher
At 38, he was also the youngest coach in the NHL, GM Steve Yzerman's solution in a search for a "strong leader" and "a guy who has been a head coach who has had success at some levels."
Boucher has had success in the past, and he's also had his challenges, including several in what has been a trying 2011-12 season for the franchise.
The tests for Boucher this season have come from everywhere, although spotty goaltending and injuries have been the biggest headaches. Mattias Ohlund
, a stalwart on defense, has been out all season with bad knees. Victor Hedman
, the No. 2 pick in 2009, has had his development stalled by a concussion which has sidelined him for 13 games to date. Martin St. Louis
, the team sparkplug, sat out five games after being hit in the face by a puck during practice -- and his vision is still not what it should be.
The list goes on and on, totaling 130 man games lost as the team re-starts its season Tuesday night with a home game against Washington (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSP, TSN2).
Yet, the season is not lost for the Lightning.
Tampa Bay has overcome a season-long seven-game losing streak by following it with a four-game win streak -- its longest of the season -- heading into the All-Star break.
With 34 games remaining, the Lightning sit nine points out of the final Stanley Cup Playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
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Overcoming adversity has been Boucher's topic all season, but sitting in his office now, he's reluctant to talk about how he has kept the team together through the trials.
"It should be about my players; always about the players," Boucher says.
Discussing Martin St. Louis
, Nate Thompson
or Steven Stamkos
and all their positive attributes is right in Boucher's wheelhouse as a coach. But he understands that is not always possible with the difficulties the team has faced this season.
"I think it's a question of having lived similar things in the past and found ways to get through things and understanding that, at times, circumstances are things you can't control, so you learn over time to stay confident in controlling the things you can control and letting go the things you can't control," Boucher said. "That's the hardest thing to do, because if you panic and try to exert control over things out of your control, then that's where you get lost."
While every coach in the NHL will face adversity at some point, few may be as well-rounded as Boucher to face it.
A graduate of McGill University, Boucher studied four separate and distinct disciplines: sports psychology, biosystems engineering, environmental biology and history. He pulls from of those diverse disciplines to produce lessons for his team.
"I was interested in a lot of different things and I followed those avenues, going from one to another," Boucher said. "I think studying and learning can help you tremendously in hockey -- it gives you a lot of ideas, it helps to rejuvenate yourself. When you see how businesses are built, sports or otherwise, it gives you an idea on how things are done in other spheres of life and it's a circle that comes back, and makes sense for you at some later point. Things you learn become relevant for the group and the organization."
An avid reader, Boucher recently assigned his team some homework, asking them to read "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand, the story of Louis Zamperini, a World War II aviator who crashed into the Pacific Ocean and survived.
He knows they read it, too, because he quizzed them on it.
"It's about how someone survived something much worse than what the team is going through and he survived and learned from it," Boucher said. "I believe in that. To me, whether it's hockey or life, I think there is a way out; a way to build even in the tough times, and I believe this is what we're going through right now."
Last season's success made Boucher's job this season that much more difficult and he spent a good part of the early season trying to temper the expectations of the players. Many of them voiced that anything less than the Stanley Cup Final would be a disappointment, but Boucher knew better.
"Steve Yzerman told me when we started, before the first season, that this would be a long process -- there are a lot of things to do, depth to build, all kinds of things, so I wasn't in it for the short fix," Boucher said. "I was in for the long run and understood the need for patience. It's easy to say, but when adversity happens, you have to expect it."
This season has reminded Boucher and the fans about the importance of patience.
There is a long road yet to climb if the Lightning are to sneak into a playoff spot, but Boucher aims to keep himself and his team on even keel during the journey.
"A guy like Michael Jordan -- you ask him about success and he tells you that he's had to fail over and over and that's why he achieved success," Boucher said. "When you look at Abraham Lincoln and amazing individuals that have done great things, and you always feel that they had nothing but success, but the reality is, when you look at their lives, the biggest majority of their success came through tough moments that they overcame. That's why they became so strong.
"So I like to cherish the tough moments, to see through the cloud. It's tough and difficult, but it's important to see through the cloud -- just because there is a cloud doesn't mean there is no sun behind it. We tend to forget that."
Boucher won't let his team forget about the sun.
"A hockey season is tough enough without having difficulties," Boucher said. "Everyone in the League faces some difficulties. But, for us, they have lasted a long, long time. Our guys are still playing, and playing well, and I think what's important for our players and our staff is to show the fight -- and we're fighting."