- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2009

WORCESTER, Mass. | Bruce Boudreau’s first experience with the American Hockey League was almost surreal.

His first season as a player in the AHL was 1978-79 with the New Brunswick Hawks, who were based in Moncton, New Brunswick. To help build the fan base in the Canadian Maritimes for the first-year franchise, the Hawks and Nova Scotia Voyageurs played six exhibition games throughout the region - in six nights.

“By the third night, we just hated each other and every game - the fourth, fifth and sixth games were all just bench-clearing brawls,” the Washington Capitals coach said. “Game number five we played in Campbellton, New Brunswick, and I remember this stuff. The ice was so bad, we played the game but we moved the nets up almost halfway to the blue lines. And we’re playing a game and I’m thinking, ‘You’re kidding me. … This is my introduction to the American Hockey League.’”

From those interesting beginnings, it has been a wild and successful ride for Boudreau, and it culminated Monday when he was inducted to the AHL Hall of Fame at DCU Center in Worcester, Mass. Boudreau spent parts of 11 seasons in the league as a player, collecting three 100-point seasons and a scoring title in 1987-88.

As a coach, he won 340 games in the top minor league in North America, which included back-to-back Calder Cup Finals with the Hershey Bears and a title in 2006. He was inducted Monday along with three others, including Jimmy Anderson, who was the first coach in the history of the Capitals.

“Without the AHL, I would be nothing,” Boudreau said. “For the better part of 30 years, I’ve either coached, played or been affiliated with a team in the American Hockey League. It has been a very big and important part of my life.”

Boudreau arrived in Worcester on Sunday night near the end of the AHL skills competition to hand out an award as part of the league’s All-Star weekend. He had dinner with his former general manager, Hershey’s Doug Yingst, who - along with longtime Springfield general manager Bruce Landon - he emphatically thanked for helping him achieve the success he has had in the AHL and NHL.

The Bears were also well-represented at the banquet. Current Hershey coaches Bob Woods and Mark French attended, along with players Bryan Helmer, Chris Bourque, Alexandre Giroux and Keith Aucoin, who were selected for Monday night’s All-Star Game.

“I coached all of [the players] in Washington this year,” Boudreau said. “It is a special day that they can be around. Doug being here - he has always been one of my staunchest supporters.

“All of my best friends - except for [Atlanta Thrashers coach] John Anderson who I knew before I went to the American League - every lifelong friend I’ve got has come from when I played in the American Hockey League.”

Boudreau confessed before the luncheon that he couldn’t prepare an acceptance speech because he “realized I can’t write, so I am going to wing it.” He was sincere about his respect for the league and the success he owed to it.

Since leaving Hershey, Boudreau has been a rousing success in the NHL with the Caps. But that doesn’t mean he was confident about it from Day One.

“I think one of the first questions I asked [Caps GM George McPhee] about a week into my tenure was, ‘If this doesn’t work out, do I still have my contract in Hershey?’” Boudreau said. “That was my biggest worry at that time, and he said, ‘Absolutely.’ That made me feel so much better.

“Hershey - that was going to be the last stop. We weren’t going to sell the house and leave it there. It was a great place to bring up kids and it still is. Now hopefully I’ll get to bring up my son [10-year-old Brady, who was on the stage holding his father’s commemorative trophy during the speech] in Washington until he’s done with school.”

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