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Boudreau Honors Father's Cancer Battle

Wild coach lost his father, Norman, to liver cancer in 2004

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers /

Boudreau Honors Father's Battle

Boudreau Honors Father's Cancer Battle

Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau sat down and shared the story of his father, Norman, who lost his battle to liver cancer in 2004

  • 02:08 •

During a four-game road trip late last month, the Minnesota Wild was part of three straight opponents' Hockey Fights Cancer games. 

On the night of Oct. 25th, with the Wild about ready to take on the Boston Bruins, the home team paid tribute to a child who had been stricken with cancer and was on his way to remission.

The young man walked to the ice from the Bruins tunnel, his dad close behind, and onto a rolled-out red carpet toward center ice to drop the ceremonial puck. After pounding fists with several Bruins players who had lined up to greet him, he approached the center of the building as 18,000 fans stood to cheer.

Almost to center ice, the boy turned around. His father had stopped near the bench to allow his son a moment of adulation. But the boy waved for his dad to join him at center ice. As the father approached, the boy wrapped his arms around his dad, and the two shared a long embrace. 

Needless to say, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

The Wild's goaltender that night, Devan Dubnyk, whose mother is a cancer survivor, began pacing in front of his own net, trying to collect himself. 

Behind the Wild bench, coach Bruce Boudreau was hoping the camera wouldn't find him.

"I was bawling like a baby," Boudreau said.

While cancer's reach is wide, affecting virtually every person on the planet in one way or another, the story of the young man in Boston was especially personal to Boudreau. 

Few things in life are as special as the bond between a father and a son. The ceremony in Boston weighed on Boudreau because he lost his dad, Norman Boudreau, to liver cancer in 2004. 

"Those things, when they're that right there, on the spot, there's no planning of it," Boudreau said. "You see the genuine love in the eyes of the people, you just picture back to losing yours. You wish you could go back and give them one more hug."

Boudreau grew up in the blue-collar town of St. Catharines, Ontario, an area a few miles across the Canadian border from Buffalo. His family didn't have a lot of money growing up, but Boudreau had wonderful support from his parents.

Of course, Boudreau, like many of the kids in town, played hockey. Norman was often times the driver, hauling Bruce and many of his teammates to and from games. 

Norman never complained. Never raised his voice. 

"He would look at me after a game and he'd say, 'What did you see? How'd you think you played?'" Boudreau said. "He was a great man. I hope I am half the man by the time my time has come. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have been playing."

Boudreau turned that playing career into a coaching career in the early 1990s. By 2004, Boudreau had become head coach of the Manchester Monarchs, an American Hockey League team in New Hampshire. 

He never expected the news, nor what happened thereafter.

"My mom and dad are pretty secretive," Boudreau said. "They didn't want to tell me what they were doing until they finally understood it themselves and they got final word from the doctors. When I found out, we had a game in Lowell that night. I drove home after the game to see him so I could go to the doctors with him and find out."

At that appointment, doctors told Norman that he had between two and eight months to live. The diagnosis hit Boudreau like a hammer. 

Norman was gone four weeks later.

At the time of the diagnosis, Boudreau was hoping to finish out the season before heading home to spend a final summer with his father. But fate had other plans.

"I remember my mom calling me and telling me, 'Dad doesn't have long now,'" Boudreau said. "I raced home. It was about a 10-hour drive to where we lived. He was in the hospital. He waited, and people have their stories, it's like he waited until I was there.

"And then 20 minutes after I saw him in the room, he passed away. It was like he was waiting for his son."

Boudreau's story is one that is like so many others in the hockey community and among the general populace. It's why he's proud to be a part of the NHL's Hockey Fights Cancer Initiative and why he hopes the day where cancer takes away loved ones is soon in the past.

"I think hockey is a very special sport and the people are very special," said Boudreau, whose Wild team hosts Calgary on Tuesday night for Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Night. "When we've looked around the League and gone around the League, the Hockey Fights Cancer days, when it's that team's time to honor it and make it known in the town, there's been some incredible stories.

"I think the more awareness we make of this, the quicker it's going to be stopped. I think they've made great strides. If in my lifetime they could cure it, I'd be the happiest guy."

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