In many respects, the 2006-07 season was one that Philippe Boucher will never forget.
On one hand, he set single-season career-bests in goals and points, posted his first career NHL hat trick and appeared in his first NHL All-Star Game, which of course took place on his home ice at American Airlines Center in January. He was among the club’s leaders in many statistical categories, and also ranked highly among all league defensemen.
On the other hand, Boucher lost his father, Jean-Claude, after a lengthy bout with pancreatic cancer in March, and juggled his playing responsibilities with frequent trips to Quebec to be by his ailing father’s side throughout the season. Anyone who has lost a parent or loved one knows the inner struggles that can wreak havoc with one’s emotions and ability to function normally on a day-to-day basis.
That is what makes Boucher’s on-ice accomplishments so touching and impressive. He continues to credit the Dallas Stars organization as a positive motivating factor to succeed during such a tough time, but he also feels like he was playing for more than just himself last year.
“A lot of it goes back to the environment in Dallas,” said Boucher from his summer home outside of Quebec City. “Everyone in the Stars organization made me feel comfortable during a tough time, and it became just a comforting escape to go to the rink. I focused on two things: family – mainly my Dad – and hockey, and my mind didn’t much wander outside of that. I was more focused when I came to the rink than I’ve ever been before and I was playing for so much more than just myself or my teammates. I felt like I was playing for my Dad.”
Boucher has also reiterated how much it meant to him to receive such an outpouring of support from Dallas Stars fans, who flooded his inbox with more than 1,000 emails of sympathy, condolences and their own stories of loss.
“It was really special and I will always remember the support of the fans throughout the season,” said Boucher. “Everywhere it turned, it seemed like I had people there to support me and share their words of encouragement and sympathy. Our story was obviously more public last year than most people’s, so a lot of people actually told me in their emails, or if I would see them around town, that reading about our situation helped them with their loss.”
Still especially poignant in Boucher’s mind is the fan’s reaction to his participation in the NHL All-Star Game in Dallas in late January. Boucher had planned on traveling to be with his father in Quebec during the All-Star Break, but a glowingly proud Jean-Claude implored his son to play in the game he had worked his whole life to reach.
“When I was introduced in front of the home fans at the All-Star Game, that’s something I’m going to remember forever,” stated Boucher. “That was just a very special moment for a lot of reasons and something I’ll always be grateful for. Years from now, I’ll realize a little more how special those few days were because it was kind of a blur and happened so fast. But one thing I’ll always remember is the support of the fans.”
Once Boucher’s “escape” came to an end with the Stars’ playoff defeat at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks, he felt like reality started to sink in and he went through another emotional stretch when he returned home to Quebec.
“My Dad was handicapped for a lot of years and wasn’t able to travel, so I would usually only see him in the summers back here in Quebec,” said Boucher. “He loved to come see my kids play baseball in the summer, and all of a sudden, once the season was over, we had to face reality that he wouldn’t be here. Driving by his house and where I grew up, that was tough. But then we had his burial and that really helped, having the whole family together one more time and to put some closure on everything.”
With that closure in his mind, Boucher looked to spend his summer with as much normalcy as possible. He took his son, Matthew, on a three-day fishing trip to a friend’s fishing cabin, and enjoyed a weekend golf outing with his uncle and some friends. He also hosted his summer golf tournament for the 16th year in a row, and the 10th since the Philippe Boucher Foundation
He began hosting the annual golf tournament in 1991, the summer he was a first-round draft choice by Buffalo, as a way to raise money for the minor hockey programs in his home region of Lotbinière. Now affiliated with his foundation, Boucher’s goal for the golf tournament is to raise money for handicapped, sick or needy children in the area. More information about the foundation can be found at the group’s website at http://fondationphilippeboucher.com
“I’ve been putting on this golf tournament for 16 years now and it’s really grown a lot in terms of helping needy kids and promoting the growth of hockey in my home county,” said Boucher. “We’ve raised some pretty good money over the years and we invest it back into the youth of our area, in making their lives easier and happier any way we can. It started with 16 foursomes playing, and this year, we had 82 foursomes and a big dinner afterwards, so I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
Boucher has also been working out hard in preparation for next season, and is excited about the core of the team returning for another season to erase some of the disappointments they felt from a year ago.
“We know how much it hurt and how disappointing it was when we lost to Vancouver, and we all felt like we could’ve done more, especially me,” said Boucher. “We had a good regular season and we fought through some injuries with guys stepping up and playing bigger roles, but there are no excuses. We know that losing in the first round isn’t good enough and we know where we want to go. We’re familiar with one another and we will have the same guys pushing towards the same goal. You look at our lineup and the pieces are all there. I’m excited to get back at it and see what kind of damage we can do.”
Boucher is also excited about some of the club’s young prospects and the likelihood that his leadership role will increase this season, in front of a friendly, familiar face.
“I’m not the most vocal guy, but that’s not something I will shy away from,” said the 14-year NHL veteran of his leadership abilities. “I played with Trevor Daley
most of the season last year, and whether I play with him or a younger guy next year, I’m more than happy to do that. I’ve seen and heard great things about some of our up-and-coming defensemen and it’s exciting to look at our young crop coming in. I think my numbers offensively were good, but I want to continue to improve into an all-around defenseman. I want to elevate my game on the defensive side and help out some of the young guys.
“I was also really excited to hear Dave Taylor is joining our organization. I got to know him when I played with the Kings, and he’s a Hall of Famer with his jersey retired in L.A. As a manager, he brings a lot of experience and he’s a very smart, low-key guy who is easy to talk to. Everyone who knows him will say that he’s a real gentleman. I’m just really excited about a lot of things within our organization and I’m ready to get back to work.”
Here’s to hoping that Boucher’s 2007-08 campaign is memorable for all the right reasons.