Bruce Boudreau seemed to be writing out his fate in an innocent message on his fridge: "September 11th, Flight L.A."
It was 2001, and he was then the coach of the American Hockey League's Manchester Monarchs and needed to get from Boston to Los Angeles for the Los Angeles Kings' training camp. But Kings coach Andy Murray called with a change of plans; he wanted to have a coaches dinner on the night of the 10th, which required Mr. Boudreau and assistant coach Bobby Jay to get on a different flight.
"We did," Mr. Boudreau said. "We got out there, we had a great dinner and didn't think anything of it."
Until the next morning, when Mr. Boudreau woke up to a phone call from his wife, Crystal - and soon after came to the realization that a simple scheduling switch represented a life-changing twist. United Flight 175 crashed into the World Trade Center's south tower at 9:03 a.m. with Kings scouts Ace Bailey and Mark Bavis onboard.
"I was ... sobbing and didn't know how to react - like 'Holy smokes, I'm supposed to be on that flight,' " Mr. Boudreau said.
Recalling that morning on the West Coast, Mr. Boudreau and Mr. Murray described the confusion and then the pain when Dave Taylor and other team officials finally confirmed what was suspected: that Bailey and Bavis were victims of the terrorist attacks.
"If you looked in anybody's eyes, it was just like a fog. It was surreal," Mr. Murray said. "We were all just kind of stunned. I'm sure Bruce's emotions were certainly different than anybody's."
Even now, Mr. Boudreau's thoughts about 9/11 revolve around losing one of his great friends in Bailey. But one memory from 10 years ago affects the Washington Capitals' coach. His children were living with their mother in St. Catharines, Ontario, and were in the dark about their father's travel switch.
"My kids saw it on the TV monitors at school, and they just ran out of school and ran home and started calling Crystal, and they were crying," he said. "When I talk about my kids running home is the emotional part for me because of the fear on their faces because as a parent you always worry about your kids. That's when I get goosebumps more, and it becomes a reality of how scared they were for their father."
Conversations that day with his family consisted mostly of "Whew. Thank God you're OK," Mr. Boudreau said. Then there was the reunion at the airport in Boston after training camp when Crystal picked him up.
"We couldn't wait to get back just with our family and just hold each other and hug each other," he said. "I just remember getting home and [saying] 'Thank God' " and holding his wife and children.
It would have cost Bailey $750 out of his pocket to change his flight and travel a day earlier. He and Mr. Boudreau spent the previous weekend together at a wedding and shared a room. Fond memories of that time are now mixed with pain. The death of his friend hit hard - "to that point in my life I hadn't had many friends die," Mr. Boudreau said, his voice becoming soft.
And yet there's still the amazing turn of events that kept Mr. Boudreau from being on the doomed plane. Bailey's sister-in-law, Barbara Pothier, didn't know Mr. Boudreau was scheduled to be on the same flight. He never felt the need to tell the family - even though it became an incredible piece of the prequel to Mr. Boudreau's time in Washington.
"I think that's one of those moments where you either deal with it or it can keep you up at night," Capitals right wing Mike Knuble said. "Maybe it changed your life and you think, 'Hey, I get a second chance.' "
Sitting in his office the day after the earthquake last month, Mr. Boudreau said that event - like 9/11 - reminded him of how quickly things can change. But he insists he doesn't dwell on how a pre-camp dinner saved his life.
"There's always the what ifs, but I try not to. Once in a blue moon you might think about it, but if he didn't change the meeting, I wouldn't be thinking anything," Mr. Boudreau said. "If anything I [think], 'Well, the last 10 years have been tremendous.' "
Mr. Boudreau has taken countless flights since, and the events of that day changed how he views air travel as it has for many people. Unlike on Sept. 10, 2001, he didn't sleep on the cross-country flight back and said he always peeks at fellow passengers' computers if he can.
But as for life itself, it has gone on for Mr. Boudreau, even amid the sorrow of Bailey's death. He pays more attention to it when anniversaries come around but avoids thinking or talking about it. According to Mr. Murray, who remains a good friend, the topic hasn't come up in conversation since.
When it is brought up, Mr. Boudreau seems in awe of how small things can turn out to be major.
"God's got a plan, I guess. It wasn't my time," he said. "It's crazy. Believe me, I'm very grateful that I'm here."
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