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Boucher taking first game back in Montreal in stride

by Dan Rosen
Guy Boucher walked into a Montreal-area restaurant for the perfect cap to a beautiful June day of fishing only to see his face on television and hear the analysts talking about the Canadiens' home opener.

Boucher, who two weeks earlier was named coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, was aware the NHL's schedule was coming out that day. He couldn't believe the ironic twist fate had thrown at him.

"My first reaction was, 'Are you kidding me?'" Boucher recalled in a phone interview with Tuesday.

They weren't. Neither were the folks who crafted the NHL's schedule. They decided to send Boucher back home for his first road game as an NHL coach.

Boucher will bring his new team into his old hometown Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET, RDS) and undoubtedly he will be the center of attention in La Belle Province when the Lightning help the Habs open the Bell Centre for the 2010-11 regular season.

"I don't want to make it seem bigger than it is. It's a special day, but it has to be business. It's very important to not send out the vibe of too much emotion on my players." -- Guy Boucher

Not only has Boucher called Montreal his home since attending McGill University from 1991-95, the Canadiens gave him his first professional head coaching job last season by hiring him to run the Hamilton Bulldogs, their American Hockey League affiliate.

Boucher won the AHL Coach of the Year award and became the hot new name in the coaching fraternity this offseason before being wooed by Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. Now, as he was putting the finishing touches on preparing his team for its first road trip of the season, Boucher allowed himself a moment to revel in the glory of the situation.

"It just means something good is happening," he said.

Boucher admitted it will be emotional for him to walk back into Montreal as a visitor, but he will do his best to hide his feelings from his team and the public.

He asks his players to ignore the pressures and emotions of a situation so they can focus and thrive, and he said it would be hypocritical to not demand the same from himself.

"It's special, it is, and it's very easily overwhelming," Boucher said. "That's why I want to stay away from all that emotion. I recognize it, but I stay away. I like to trim things down to the simplest expression, which is, 'I'm going to coach another game.' I want to make sure my mind is cleared for my players. Once the game is done, that's the time I want to realize, 'Wow, I just coached at the Bell Centre,' but not today or tomorrow morning. It's very important I make that transition to task."

Technically, Boucher has coached in the Bell Centre before. He brought the Bulldogs into the building twice last season for special regular-season games.

"There were 17,000 people there, so I kind of have a sense of how it's going to feel," Boucher said. "I know the environment."

There were plenty of media covering the Bulldogs' visits to Montreal, but Boucher was the home coach then and someone many believed soon would be coaching the Canadiens as Jacques Martin's successor.

This time he'll walk into the Bell Centre as the visitor and the youngest coach in the NHL at 39 years old. He'll also bring in a team that has experienced a complete makeover from last season, with 10 new players to go along with a new coaching staff, new front office and new ownership.

Of course, French-Canadian stars Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Simon Gagne will be joining Boucher on the trip.

To ward off having to do 20 or so different phone interviews, the Lightning held a conference call with Boucher on Monday.

"That was probably a good way to go about it," he said.

Boucher understands he will have to talk to the media in English and French again Wednesday morning, but he's embracing that opportunity, rather than walking in with skepticism.

"There is a lot of media and I feel comfortable with it because I know they have a job to do," Boucher said. "They want information and our job is to give them some. When you cherish that relationship instead of being afraid of it, it usually turns out pretty good. We give them information and they put that information out there for people to follow hockey."

The opponent will be very familiar. Boucher never coached the Canadiens (just a few of their players, including P.K. Subban, Mathieu Darche and Tom Pyatt), but he said he watched all 82 of their games last season.

"I watched every game, whether it was live or a few hours after, so definitely I know the players a lot," Boucher said. "I have been looking at them on video now and they look even better than last year. I think they have more drive and I think they're going to be a very hard team to beat."

The Lightning are expected to be as well.

Thanks to the schedule -- season-opener this past Saturday at home against Atlanta and then off until Wednesday in Montreal -- the Bolts basically had an extended training camp. The coach said it was necessary.

"We needed time," he said. "It's a new coach, new staff and we have 10 players that are new. We're probably the team that made the most changes in the League in terms of players, staff, ownership, GM. It's a big adjustment for everybody and the players have to deal with that the most and figure out how to act and how to play. They've done a great job at it."

Wednesday night they can reward their coach with a victory he would cherish forever.

"I don't want to make it seem bigger than it is," Boucher said. "It's a special day, but it has to be business. It's very important to not send out the vibe of too much emotion on my players."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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