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Boudreau Sees Wild As Right Fit, Winning Team

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

In the Ottawa Senators, Bruce Boudreau had a franchise that would bring him closer to his family, and one that he very much considered becoming a part of.

But in the Minnesota Wild, Boudreau said he has a team that can win now, in a great hockey market, and with a general manager who courted him in an impressive fashion.

"It was a really tough decision because my daughter, and granddaughter, and her husband live in Ottawa, and I haven't been near them a lot," Boudreau said on Monday.

But now Boudreau finds himself back in Saint Paul, where he played for the Minnesota Fighting Saints in the mid 1970's as a part of the World Hockey Association.

That was 40 years ago, at a time Boudreau said, " … wasn't as fervent I would say as it would have been if it was the North Stars, but still, everywhere you went, they knew you were a hockey player, and I'll never forget that."

He's been to Xcel Energy Center plenty of times as a visitor though, having been a head coach in the NHL since 2007. He's gotten a taste of the atmosphere. That, plus the last week, helped Boudreau come to the decision to accept the job and become the fifth head coach of the franchise.

"[General Manager Chuck Fletcher] was tremendously impressive in the interviews," Boudreau said. "They have a good team that, with a little bit of luck is ready to win."

As for what the Wild would look like next season, Boudreau said it's still early to tell, but he did give insights into some of his hockey philosophies, and how he has made things work in the past. Boudreau has the highest winning-percentage among all active head coaches, and became the fastest coach in NHL history to reach 400 wins, doing so in 663 games.

"To be successful for the most part you have to be able to skate in this league, and you have to be able to defend, because there are so many great players, and the speed is so fast on most teams," he said. "If you can't do either one of those things, then you're usually chasing the game, which isn't a good thing."

Playing at a higher tempo is something that Wild players said was an element of its game when it was successful.

Boudreau said, in terms of systems, identifying the Wild's strengths and getting familiar with the personnel would inform those decisions.

"You want to put everybody in a position to succeed," he said. "We're going to try to do something that I'm very familiar with, and the way we play, and if that doesn't work because of the difference in personnel then we have to change it and do something else."

Boudreau pointed to this past season in Anaheim. The Ducks, he said, had trouble scoring, so they made the decision to become a good defensive team.

"When Freddie Shero coached the Philadelphia Flyers they were the toughest, roughest, meanest group ever," he said. "But when he went and coached the Rangers, he realized that team wasn't the same, so what did have to do? He had to dial it down, and they were the least penalized team in the league. It was very similar to last year with us."

The Ducks finished with the fewest goals-against in the NHL, had the best record in the league from Christmas on when it made the defensive shift in mindset, and, over that stretch, allowed nine-fewer goals than the second least scored on team despite playing one more game.

"We were aggressively in your face," Boudreau said. "People want to say that I'm an offensive-minded coach, but I was an offensive-minded player. You look at the team, and assess what their strengths are, and play according to their strengths."

Adaptability, he said, is key. It's something that plagued the Wild this past season: both the players and Fletcher lamented on inconsistency. The Wild had two stretches that totaled nearly a quarter of its season (19 games) over which it earned four points, winning one game. The rest of the season, it played at over a 100-point pace.

"Consistency is important," Boudreau said. "It's one thing that I've been fortunate to have, and you're always pushing the players.

"I'm a very positive guy. If things aren't going right, then we change things up in a hurry. Whether it's in-game, or if it's in practice. We want to keep things fresh for everybody."

And a lot is still to be decided. Boudreau will begin the process of reaching out to Wild players individually, concocting what he sees as a winning formula given the ingredients, and prepare for his first training camp in Minnesota.

From the periphery, as an opponent, Boudreau said he's gleaned the Wild can be hard to play against. It's something that Minnesota locker room has said at times, and something Boudreau hopes can be a part of the Wild's consistency as he begins his coaching tenure.

"It means there's no room to skate," Boudreau said. "There are no free chances, and every puck is contested. Whether it be on the boards, in the neutral zone, in the offensive zone, and people don't like to be contested all the time. It's a tough thing. Players want an easy game on the other side."

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