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Boudreau's leadership style influenced by likes of Sittler, Gretzky

Coach shares stories with high school and college captains at second annual Wild Leadership Summit

by Phil Ervin /

ST. PAUL -- As Darryl Sittler came tearing down the tunnel, Bruce Boudreau knew the Toronto Maple Leafs captain was about to give him an earful.

The Wild's head coach received a whole lot more than that. After watching the then Leafs call-up leave the practice ice earlier than his liking, Sittler grabbed Boudreau by the collar, shoved him up against a wall and voiced his displeasure.

"He says, 'I'm the best player on this team, and I'm the first guy on the ice and I'm the last guy off the ice, and that's why I'm the best player on this team,'" Boudreau said, quoting the Hall of Famer as part of a Q&A session during Tuesday's Minnesota Wild Leadership Summit presented by West Bend Mutural Insurance at the St. Paul Rivercentre. "And you, you're a call-up and you're leaving the ice early? You should never leave the ice early.'

"It stuck with me. ... I was just doing what I was supposed to do to get by and not anything more. That taught me a big, powerful lesson right there."

Tweet from @mnwild: "Eric Staal is a perfect example of I don't need an A or a C to be a leader...He said to me: 'I think we all want to play more, but I scored 42 you must be putting me in the right spots at the right time.'" ��� Bruce Boudreau

Now, Boudreau made it clear he's not promoting a physical altercation in the name of leadership. But direct, honest communication and feedback have been a hallmark of his coaching career and helped vault him to becoming the NHL's active leader in win percentage.

"It's communication," Boudreau told "I'm not a ranter or a raver running around. I think I discipline when it's needed to be but I think the way you get through to anybody -- especially today's young people -- is through communication. Don't make them guess."

The coach first learned it from his father, who "taught me right from wrong." Countless coaches and captains helped further shape his perspective. So has Wayne Gretzky, a close friend. But it was Sittler who Boudreau points to as the most influential hockey leader he's ever come across.

And it's no coincidence that Sittler topped 1,000 points during his 16-year NHL career, Boudreau said.

Boudreau has seen those same traits in some of the captains he's coached. The Mikko Koivus, Ryan Getzlafs and Alex Ovechkins of the world all have their distinct personalities and leadership styles, but there's one thing they all share.

"I think the common thread is they want to be the best, as well," said Boudreau, who bounced back and forth in the Maple Leafs system from 1976-1982. "They know they've got to teach by example. You can't be a leader and just talk; people see through that in a heartbeat. But if you want to walk the walk and say what you do and do what you say then you become a really good leader."

Boudreau's conversation with FOX Sports North analyst Kevin Gorg was part of a day-long immersion into hockey and team leadership for 311 high school and collegiate hockey captains and coaches that included a roundtable with Wild forward Jason Zucker, former Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway and their wives on community involvement. Wild president Matt Majka and Saint Paul mayor Melvin Carter offered their thoughts on leadership. So did Sam Smith, president of Prouty Project consulting firm, IMG Performance Institute Director of Mental Conditioning Trevor Moawad and Dr. Nicole LaVoi, a senior lecturer at the University of Minnesota in the area of social and behavioral sciences.

The day included video messages from Koivu, teammates Ryan Suter, Luke Kunin and other NHL players and presentations on a variety of topics, from team building to mental health to building a positive locker room culture.

"It was fun," Zucker said. "It was a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be. ... Any time you can pass along some information about your playing days or your community days it's always going to be good. I wish I had that when I was younger."

Said Boudreau: "It took me an awful long time to understand what it meant to be a leader and to lead. It doesn't come easy. If I can help anybody with one little idea, then that's great and I'll do it every day."


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