ANAHEIM, Calif. — Bruce Boudreau recalled Thanksgiving 2007 with a certain amount of awe. Just named coach of the Washington Capitals, he was walking from the practice facility atop Ballston Common Mall to the food court and then his temporary housing at a nearby apartment cloaked in anonymity.
"No one would have a clue who I was," Boudreau said. "But if I did tomorrow, everybody and their brother knew."
That's the result of winning four division championships and a coach of the year award and turning around an underachieving team. That's also the byproduct of Boudreau's impact on the development of Washington as a hockey town, which the Anaheim Ducks' coach considers minuscule but was far from it.
"I wouldn't change it for anything. I think the greatest thing that ever happened to me was being coach of the Caps — by far," Boudreau said. "For four-plus years I got a chance to see hockey grow in Washington from 6,000 people [at games] and nobody knowing anything to [long lines]. And I feel really proud, whether it's a minuscule part or what, of helping grow hockey there. That's really important to me."
In the process, Boudreau became a D.C. guy, rooting for the Nationals and Redskins despite growing up a fan of Notre Dame football and the New York Yankees. He makes his home far away now but can't look away.
"I follow University of Maryland, I follow Georgetown," Boudreau said. "Anytime there's something in the paper about Washington, I'm reading it. It's crazy."
Childhood interests in Notre Dame and the Yankees haven't faded, but the Toronto native's tenure as coach of the Capitals made him consider Washington a possible retirement destination.
"I would've thought that D.C. would have been a cold city because of the political climates and everything," Boudreau said. "But it was the greatest place I've ever lived. It was unbelievable. There wasn't a minute that I didn't love living there."
He and his wife, Crystal, built relationships n the D.C. area and count Redskins special teams coach Danny Smith and Nationals owner Mark Lerner among their friends. He became engrained in the local scene, doing commercials for Hadeed Oriental Rug Cleaning and Mercedes-Benz of Alexandria. But more importantly, he won.
"Bruce was instrumental in the team's success over the last four seasons," owner Ted Leonsis wrote on his blog just after Boudreau's firing. "I appreciate all you did for us as a franchise."
Though the Ducks have the advantage of winning a Stanley Cup in 2007 and Wayne Gretzky's time with the Los Angeles Kings in the 1990s sparked a generation of NHL Sunbelt expansion, Boudreau would like to do in Anaheim what he did for the Capitals.
"I hope I can grow hockey, because I think I was put around here to make hockey grow — not here generally but on this planet," Boudreau said. "If it works, it works."
Whether Boudreau is able to reverse the Ducks' fortunes remains to be seen. Reinvigorating a hockey culture in the sun and the shade palm trees is another question altogether.
But it's something Boudreau dreams of. Maybe then he'll even become a Southern California guy.
"You never know," he said. "I don't think I'll be doing commercials here; there's enough actors in this area to do commercials. But you never know what's going to happen."
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.