There comes a time in every NHL player’s career when they have to hang up their skates. Some guys decide to move away from the sport, taking jobs in completely different industries or heading back to school to start a new career. But for some, the pull of the game they love, that has been a part of their lives for so long, is just too much to leave.
Preds alum Bob Boughner, Blake Geoffrion and Mark Mowers traveled back to Music City earlier this week to take part in some of the team’s 15th anniversary festivities. Despite having their playing careers end at different times and places, all three have found new jobs in the sport, and are quickly learning what it’s like to be on the other side of the boards.
Boughner, or “The Boogey Man” as he was known in Nashville, was a member of the first Preds team in 1998. During Boughner’s 141 games in a Preds sweater from 1998-2000, he racked up 234 penalty minutes. After leaving Nashville, Boughner made stops in Pittsburgh, Calgary, Carolina and Colorado before retiring after the 2005-06 season.
“I didn’t want to take a lot of time off or take a year or two to figure it all out,” Boughner said of the decisions to be made when his playing career was over.
Boughner didn’t waste any time at all, taking a head coaching job with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League the season after he finished playing.
“Coaching is something I’ve always thought about, even as a player over the year,” Boughner said. “I’m glad I did it right away, it’s given me a great chance the last few years to really stay in the game.”
His time as an NHL player provided him with experiences that have proved to be invaluable as he took his place behind the bench as the President, CEO and head coach of the Spitfires.
“I’ve learned a lot from some of the best coaches, you take a little bit from every coach that you have,” Boughner said. “I had Barry Trotz here, and from him I took the structure, and the need to really hold people accountable. In Nashville, I was given the opportunity, a big chance, and they made me a better player. I think it really kick started my career.”
Both Geoffrion and Mowers, while still involved in the game, have taken a little bit of a different path than Boughner. Traveling throughout North America, they can be found in press boxes and team booths, keeping an eye on the next generation of NHL players as scouts.
Mowers, another member of the first Preds team to suit up in Music City, works now as a professional scout for the Montreal Canadiens.
“I think it kind of just happened,” Mowers said of how he ended up back in the game when his playing career ended. “There were days when I would say, ‘I just want to get out, get away from it,’ but the next week I would be thinking, ‘This is what I know.’ The pieces kind of just fell into place for me, and it’s been pretty cool being on the hockey operations side of things.”
A fourth generation NHL player and the first native Tennessee native to play in an NHL game, Geoffrion knew that hockey was where he belonged and where he would stay even after he was done playing.
“I always thought that after hockey I would stay in the game,” said Geoffrion, now a Professional Scout with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Similarly to how Boughner uses the knowledge he gleaned from years spent playing under different NHL coaches, Mowers and Geoffrion both say that their time spent playing the game at the highest level is key to their ability to do their job now.
“When a guy makes a bad play out on the ice, people might automatically assume that that was a bad play because he’s a bad player,” Mowers said. “But I have to be able to run that play through my mind and be able to think about actually being in that situation.”
A player’s drive, aspirations and skill sets are all things that a scout is tasked with picking up on, and all things that Geoffrion says his time in the NHL helps him pick up on and all things that, in turn, help him do his job well.
While Boughner, Geoffrion and Mowers all have been able to successfully use their NHL careers to move into careers on the other side of the industry, all three recognized that not everyone with aspirations to stand behind the bench or sit in the front office, have had the opportunity to play the game at its highest level.
“It’s just like any other industry,” Geoffrion said when asked what advice he would give to the person looking for a hockey career that never played professionally. “It’s a combination of working hard, putting your time in and learning the game.”
Mowers, who offered the advice of always being willing to ask questions and talk to a lot of people, says that many times he finds himself taking his own advice in his new position, gleaning information from those that have been in his place before him.
From 2003 to 2006, Boughner served as the Vice President of the NHL Players Association, helping see the NHL through the 2004-05 lockout.
“It’s key to volunteer or do an internship to really understand the inner workings of the business of hockey or business of sport,” Boughner said. “I learned a lot during my time volunteering at the NHLPA that I’ve really taken with me to the business side of what I do- generating revenue, selling sponsorships and the community part of things. You just need to dive right in and learn as much as you can.”