TORONTO - As coaching jobs took Bruce Boudreau through places like Fort Wayne, Muskegon, San Francisco, Mississippi and Lowell, there were many days when he thought he might never get to the NHL.
He finally got that chance with the Washington Capitals this season and clearly made the most of the opportunity.
Boudreau was given the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's coach of the year on Thursday night, beating out Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings and Guy Carbonneau of the Montreal Canadiens.
"I always dreamed that I'd be there but never thought I would," said Boudreau. "You always had that carrot at the end that you're doing this job and you want to get a chance to be in the NHL.
"But did I think I would get there? I didn't think anybody would take a chance on me. I got lucky."
The 53-year-old was coaching the American Hockey League's Hersey Bears last fall and standing in front of some of the biggest names in hockey at the NHL Awards ceremony on Thursday night.
It's been quite a ride. Boudreau didn't even realize his name had been called after winning the award and had to be nudged by wife Crystal before walking towards the stage.
"As soon as they called my name all the ideas went out (for a speech)," said Boudreau. "I didn't know what I was going to say except I better thank (Capitals GM) George (McPhee) and (owner) Ted (Leonsis)."
Boudreau figures his big break came during Hershey's Calder Cup final appearances in 2006 and 2007. The Capitals missed the playoffs both of those seasons so McPhee was with the AHL team throughout the playoffs.
In hindsight, that was probably an audition for Boudreau.
"(George) gained confidence in me during that time," he said. "If Washington was good at that time he wouldn't have followed us as well as he did and probably wouldn't have had that confidence.
"God works in mysterious ways."
The Capitals were in last place in the Eastern Conference when Boudreau was hired on Nov. 22 and ended up finishing first in the Southeast Division. Washington had a regular-season record of 37-17-7 under Boudreau.
The coach was the fastest to reach 20 and 30 wins in franchise history.
"The whole year has been a whirlwind experience," said Boudreau. "Every day seems to be a new chapter in my life right now.
"The only thing I kept preaching all year is that you guys are good. We have some great young players and for whatever reason they weren't playing up to their capabilities."
It's hard to believe given the starring role Alex Ovechkin had at the awards ceremony. He led the league in goals and points and was voted league MVP by both hockey writers and his peers.
The young Russian really took to his new coach and was one of the first to congratulate Boudreau on his honour.
"I'm happy for him," said Ovechkin.
Boudreau finished just ahead of Carbonneau in voting by select members of the NHL Broadcasters' Association, racking up seven more first-place ballots.
The Canadiens won their first Eastern Conference title in 19 years under Carbonneau and didn't lose more than three games in a row all season.
Babcock guided the Red Wings to their third straight 50-win season and might have won this award had the voting been done after his Red Wings won the Stanley Cup.
That's certainly how Boudreau would have gone.
"I would have picked the person that won the Stanley Cup," said Boudreau. "I'm glad I don't have a vote."
The Capitals let coach Glen Hanlon go after the team got off to its slowest start in 26 years and hired Boudreau on an interim basis.
It was his first trip back to the NHL since appearing in 141 games as a player.
"I've sort of waited 32 years for this opportunity," Boudreau said after being hired.
It turns out that the opportunity is all he needed.
The Capitals signed Boudreau to a contract extension after the season so he's not going anywhere else for awhile.