ANAHEIM, Calif. — It sunk in for Bruce Boudreau on the flight to California. Only recently fired by the Washington Capitals, it took a matter of hours for the Anaheim Ducks to hire him as their coach.
"You just want to get back to work and then you're sitting on the plane and you're going, 'Holy man, I'm 3,500 miles from family, my kids, my friends in D.C. — everything,' " Boudreau said Sunday in his office at Honda Center. "That's the biggest thing to get used to."
And the losing, too, which is never easy for the ultra-competitive 56-year-old hockey lifer who admitted the defeat-filled end to his tenure with the Capitals was "killing him." He knew he was taking over a struggling team, but in his first 15 games the Ducks are just 4-9-2.
Boudreau knows it's an "uphill climb" to lead Anaheim from the dregs of the NHL to the playoffs, but he has no regrets about taking on this challenge so quickly after his time in Washington ended.
"There's only 30 of these jobs. So if you decide to pass on one, you might never get another chance," Boudreau said. "Who am I to pass on one? I was a guy that was in the minors 30 years. This is just another great adventure for me."
Boudreau is seeking to make magic happen a 10-minute drive from Disneyland, though it might take a couple roller coaster turns before the Ducks become even a contender. Going into Sunday night's game, Anaheim had just 28 points, barely out of the Western Conference basement.
It probably would mean the Ducks getting about 97 points to have a realistic chance of making the playoffs, something that's not lost on Boudreau.
"He knows this day what it's going to take to get into the playoffs, and that's what our mindset is," assistant coach Bob Woods said. "If we can get that transformed over to the players and once you get 20 guys believing in something and you have a little bit of success, you witnessed it in Washington — it can happen."
Boudreau took over the Ducks in a similar situation to when he assumed the head job with the Capitals in 2007, with a team near the bottom of the standings in need of a spark. Four season ago, he took Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and company from also-rans at Thanksgiving to Southeast Division champions in April 2008.
This Ducks team has a core built around Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, league MVP Corey Perry and some who won the Stanley Cup here in 2007. The task of qualifying for the playoffs this time is more daunting, Boudreau admitted, because in Washington he had familiarity with players and a young team ready to win.
The timing might be a little different with the Ducks, who haven't been able to turn the season around since Boudreau replaced Randy Carlyle on Nov. 30.
"The core is there that it shouldn't take too long. It's daunting to look what we have to do," Boudreau said. "But if you know me as a believer and making these guys believe, it would take a little bit of a winning streak and then they would believe. When you believe and you work hard, good things happen."
The belief waned in Washington over the final month of his tenure with the Caps, with Boudreau pointing to losses at the New York Islanders and Nashville as two that, had they gone differently, could have changed the course of the season. But those, along with blowouts at Toronto and Buffalo, paved the way for his firing Nov. 28 and the hiring of Dale Hunter.
But Boudreau isn't bitter. He had a hard time watching at first, unable to sit down for the Capitals' first game without him, but now his former team is a "magnet." He can't look away.
"You get disappointed and for the eight hours I was sitting at home, I was really upset because I never wanted to leave. I thought this would be the place that I would be there the rest of my life. Those things happen," Boudreau said. "[But] 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 talks of trying to capture another Stanley Cup for the Ducks. If he manages to do that, coaching the Caps will be but a steppingstone to glory.
But that sort of conversation is a dream for now, given the Ducks' bleak situation this season. And although he has no plans of buying a house in his new city, Boudreau envisions trying to build a winner in Anaheim over the next couple of years.
This week, this season, Boudreau takes every game personally.
"I just want to win. I don't ever sleep if we lose," he said. "Putting on the music, that's such a great feeling because you can leave the building so happy. No matter what happens, you can leave the building happy."
He has left the rink without that happiness more times than he would like. But given his track record with the Capitals, it's impossible to count Boudreau out of creating a winning atmosphere with the Ducks.
"If we can just get something rolling here a little bit and make them believers again, who knows what can happen?" Woods said. "I don't think you'll ever tell Bruce there's no chance."
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