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Boudreau's Path Has Led Him Back To Saint Paul

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

As Bruce Boudreau sat at a podium inside Xcel Energy Center, meeting the media for the first time since becoming the Minnesota Wild's new head coach on Saturday, it marked the second time the siren song of Saint Paul was too much for Boudreau to ignore.

With a contingency of his former Minnesota Fighting Saints teammates — a local franchise of the now-defunct World Hockey Association — standing huddled at the side of the room, it was a call to Boudreau's past as his present took its latest turn.

"I think it's fabulous," Boudreau said, calling out the symmetry to standing in the location his professional hockey career began four decades ago. "I told my wife, ‘This is the last place I’m going.’ I told my wife I’m going to say here for as long as they want me, and I hope it’s a long time."

It was 40 years ago that a 19-year-old Boudreau embarked on a professional playing career, electing to sign with the Saints over his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, who had selected him in the third round of the 1974 NHL Amateur Draft.

But the Saints had used an even higher pick on Boudreau, taking him with the 14th pick in the first round of its 1974 draft. So Boudreau had a decision to make, but one that was made easier for the Ontario native after a visit to the Twin Cities, and a boat ride.

"Glenn Sonmor and Harry Neale, they had seen me play a lot, they talked to me, and quite frankly, when they flew me into Minnesota and I met with them, went to the lake with them, it seemed like it was going to be a tremendous situation," Boudreau said to on Monday. "So I jumped at it."

They played their games in the old Civic Center, where the Xcel Energy Center currently stands, with glass boards. On Tuesday, it was just the boards, and no ice, as Boudreau took center stage when he was introduced as the new head coach of the Minnesota Wild.

"I remember him a little bit," said Ted Hampson, one of Boudreau's three Saints teammates who was on-hand for the ceremony Tuesday, and presented Boudreau with an old Saints jersey at the conclusion of his press conference. "He came up during the season, and he was a fun-loving guy. But mostly on the ice you could tell that he was a smart player. He had confidence in himself, which was a good thing, and not a great skater, but he got the puck to the right people at the right time.

"You could just tell that he was going to be successful."

Boudreu played 30 games that season before the franchise folded. Then he made a stop in the Central Hockey League with the Dallas Black Hawks before making his way back to Toronto and beginning his NHL career with the Maple Leafs in 1977.

"My agent at the time was Alan Eagleson, and he said, 'The money is pretty well the same, but the opportunity to play right away in Minnesota was much greater than playing in Toronto right away, so why don't you go to Minnesota?' were the words he used," Boudreau said. "And learn your craft, and then you'll come back to the NHL after the first contract.

"I failed to realize you have to get in shape in the summer to make the team, an early mistake."

As a 19-year-old and a freshly minted pro, Boudreau found himself around a wealth of talent, in a community where he could tell hockey mattered greatly.

"My stories are playing against Gordie Howe, and playing with Davie Keon, and Mike Walton, and Johnny McKenzie, and Wayne Connelly, and Teddy Hampson; great players in their day," Boudreau said. "And the Minnesota players: Mike Antonovich, and Bill Butters, and Gary Gambucci, the Carlsons; Paul Holmgrem was on my team.

"We had a really veteran team there, and I was just a young kid, so I was learning an awful lot from those guys."

A young fish in an older pond, Boudreau had to find a way to swim underwater with all the neighborhood fish accustomed to the currents.

"There were no rules back then for hazing," Boudreau said. "And they got me."

This time around, set to begin his second tour of Saint Paul, it was a four-hour meeting last Tuesday with General Manager Chuck Fletcher and Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr in Southern California that made things crystal for the Wild's newest bench boss.

There was no boat this time, just a long conversation about coaching philosophies, communication between coach and front office, and how the game should be played, but nothing about player-personnel.

"Brent and I asked a lot of questions of him, and he asked some great questions back, and everyone is always curious to get a feel for how you're going to deal with him," Fletcher said. "I wanted to know what Bruce likes, and what he doesn't like."

Boudreau quickly learned all he needed to about the Wild's brass.

"I went home to my wife and said, 'These are the kind of people I want to work for,'" Boudreau said. "And like in all things, relationships are the important thing. And I thought this was going to be a really good relationship."

Things then materialized quickly. The Wild made an initial offer Friday night, spoke with Boudreau's people Saturday around 10:30 a.m., and by 1 p.m., a deal was in place, enough time in-between for Fletcher to cook brunch and do some brief yard work.

"We set out on this process a couple weeks ago and really did not speak to too many people," Fletcher said. "Once Bruce became available and we had a chance to meet, it mostly became about, 'Can we get him signed?' It’s very rare that you get an opportunity to sign a coach with his credentials."

Boudreau's resume is one that begins in Saint Paul, and could end in Saint Paul if he gets his way.

"Hopefully I can help in some form, bring a Stanley Cup to this state and these two cities," Boudreau said. "And last here for a while."

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