John Anderson had just coached a game for his Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League the night before Thanksgiving last year when he saw that the Wolves’ parent club, Atlanta, had defeated the Washington Capitals 5-1.
“I said to my assistant, ‘Uh oh, Bruce Boudreau is going to be the next coach in Washington,’” Anderson said. “I was just joking around and laughing. The next morning I was in the shower at about a quarter till seven, and then I came down and saw there was a message on my phone from Bruce. I said, ‘Uh oh.’
“Sure enough, I phoned him and I asked him, ‘Is this the next coach of the Washington Capitals?’ and he said, ‘Yes it is.’”
Boudreau had a slightly more peaceful Thanksgiving this year. Instead of trying to navigate traffic in this area for the first time and thinking about what he would say to his new players shortly after being given his first NHL coaching job, he could focus on worrying about his injured players and his son Ben’s first game with South Carolina of the ECHL.
It has been quite a year for Boudreau. He has risen from successful but unproven at the highest level to a man who an NHL coach of the year trophy on his mantel and a team that is expected to contend for a Stanley Cup.
In his first 82 games as coach, Boudreau’s Caps collected 106 points, one shy of the team record for a full season. But Boudreau wanted more.
“I wanted 112, and that’s true,” Boudreau said. “We found out - what did Detroit have in 82 games last year, 115? So in reality I wanted 116. You can look at it and say there were games in there that we gave away or didn’t play the way we should have and we could have had 116.”
Aside from a few new suits and a bit more secrecy with the media when it comes to his injured players and starting goaltender, Boudreau very much remains the same guy general manager George McPhee pegged as Glen Hanlon’s replacement a year ago.
The on-ice success from last season hasn’t changed either. Boudreau has the Caps in first place in the Southeast Division - a far cry from the NHL-worst club he inherited last November.
“That’s one of the great things about Bruce is that he’s a down-to-earth guy and easy to talk to,” Caps forward Matt Bradley said. “He is still in the room every morning talking to guys, not even about hockey - just shooting the breeze about what is going on in their lives. I don’t think he has changed at all, and that is one of the great things about him. I don’t think he ever will change.”
Boudreau’s success has spawned a book deal, and he will be enshrined in the AHL Hall of Fame in January. But his improbable rise to NHL coaching stardom may have had an impact around the league as well.
The NHL coaching fraternity has long had the reputation of being an old boys’ club. When teams are searching for a new coach, inevitably names of former NHL coaches are tossed out, and those men are often hired.
Even here in the District, after Boudreau was named interim coach, there were plenty of rumors about when McPhee would interview Pat Quinn or Pat Burns - questions that didn’t go away until McPhee removed the interim tag.
But a funny thing happened this summer around the league. Two AHL coaches with zero NHL experience were hired for head coaching positions (Anderson in Atlanta and Scott Gordon on Long Island) and a third team hired a guy from junior hockey who also had no time coaching in the NHL (Peter DeBoer with Florida).
Plenty of AHL coaches have succeeded in the NHL. The past three Stanley Cup champions (Carolina, Anaheim and Detroit) all have employed former AHL bench bosses. But in the past it has been rare for anyone to net an NHL head coaching job with no experience at the top level, even as an assistant.View Entire Story
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