- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2008

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.

“He did it with such a bang that he really opened up everyone’s eyes, and it was a great thing for [AHL] coaches,” Anderson said. “I’m sure it had something to do with me getting this job.

“I am glad he did it, but he did so well last year it is like following the dog act on ‘The Johnny Carson Show.’ Nobody wants to do it, but you want to get out and plug your own program so you do it anyway.”

While Boudreau can be thankful this holiday for the opportunities he and his good friend Anderson have been afforded, he also has witnessed the other side of the business in his short tenure.

Another of his great friends in hockey is Barry Melrose, who was unceremoniously dumped by the Tampa Bay Lightning after just 16 games as their coach. A guy Boudreau lists as one his two greatest influences from the coaching fraternity, Andy Murray, also could be in trouble in St. Louis if the Blues continue to be mired near the bottom of the NHL standings.

“I see Barry and you hear about other guys, and I am never going to be comfortable,” Boudreau said. “Eddie Jordan gets let go [by the Wizards], and you hate it. I’ve gone through it twice, and I never want to go through it again if it is at all possible. It is a horribly pride-deflating thing.

“That is one of my philosophies to never take anything for granted and think you are bigger or better than you are.”

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