There are plenty of what-ifs and unforeseen twists in any hockey coach’s life. Considering the odyssey Bruce Boudreau traveled to reach the Washington Capitals, he probably had more than most.
Still, it is crazy to think there was an afternoon in the summer of 2005 when fate (or, more specifically, Anaheim general manger Brian Burke) could have intervened and Boudreau might never have coached the Hershey Bears or eventually the Caps.
Before offering the Hershey job to Boudreau, Washington general manager George McPhee asked him not to answer the phone for 24 hours - he knew Boudreau was a candidate for Portland’s coaching vacancy. As Boudreau remembers in “Gabby: Confessions of a Hockey Lifer,” a new book he co-wrote with Tim Leone, McPhee was a little late with his offer.
The book hits stores Saturday. Boudreau and Leone will be at Kettler Capitals Iceplex that day to celebrate by signing copies.
“I was at a golf tournament in Manchester,” Boudreau said Wednesday. “It was like noon until noon that he had told me [not to take any calls], and I didn’t get off the course until like 6 [p.m., and] before then he called. I was really excited. It was like 20 days, 22 days after I had been fired [by the Monarchs], and I was in Manchester around all these people that I could tell [about the job]. It was pretty cool.”
Taking the job with the Bears proved to be one of the smartest decisions Boudreau has made. Not only did he lead Hershey to the Calder Cup in his first season (after four years of first-round exits in Manchester), he eventually got his chance in the NHL with the Caps and produced a storybook-esque march to a division title and the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year in 2007-08.
When Boudreau showed up at a Hershey playoff game that season, Leone approached him about writing a book, and the coach agreed immediately. After about 60 hours of interview sessions - most of them coming in May and June of 2008 at Boudreau’s former home in Harrisburg, Pa. - Leone took a detailed look at an improbable trek for a former minor league journeyman who finally earned a chance at the big time and didn’t waste it.
“When he got promoted [to the Caps], that whole Cinderella possibility was hanging out there, and that’s when I started thinking about it,” said Leone, a reporter who covered Boudreau for the Patriot-News in Harrisburg. “As the course of the season went on, he brought the team back to make the playoffs, [and] it just seemed like a natural.”
In the book, Boudreau recounts a playing career that was short-circuited by an inability to be as dedicated as he needed to be. Many of his experiences - and the lessons he learned from them - helped make him the successful coach he turned out to be.
Boudreau wants others to learn from his mistakes as a player but also from his triumphs as a coach.
“To me, Bruce is more honest with himself in public than most of us are with ourselves in private. It is this metamorphosis, and it is hard to quantify, but somehow that plays into his success as a coach,” Leone said. “Yeah, there are fun stories, and, yeah, it is entertaining, but it really is an epic tale of perseverance. This has very much been a style over substance culture, and then this is a case of a substance-over-style guy finally getting his chance and proving he can do the job.”
Boudreau said he wanted a “rated-PG book,” but there are some juicy stories - especially about his departure from Manchester and his dealings with Sean Avery. He was let go by the Monarchs despite leading the franchise to the playoffs in its first four years of existence, but Boudreau paints a picture of backstabbing and betrayal by a couple of people in the organization who he felt wanted him gone.
Not only did Boudreau lead the Bears to back-to-back appearances in the Calder Cup Finals, he also went 7-0-1 against the Monarchs, including a four-game sweep in the Eastern Conference finals in 2007.
Boudreau coached Avery for the Monarchs, and the experience ended up being a negative one. But that was tame compared with what Boudreau recalled Avery saying during Game 7 in the first round of the last year’s playoffs against the New York Rangers.
“He told me I was the biggest, fattest bleeping pig he had ever seen,” Boudreau said in the book. “He told me I was fatter than bleeping Ken Hitchcock. He told me I was going to die because I was such a fat bleep.”
Washington and Hershey fans will enjoy the stories from before Boudreau became one of the most beloved coaches in the history of both franchises. Hockey fans who don’t know his story will be able to fill in the blanks about just how far Boudreau had to go before realizing his dream.
“I have a lot of respect [for him] as a coach but also as a fan of hockey,” Caps forward Brooks Laich said. “He is just a huge fan of the sport. I would definitely like to read his book, but I told him even though he has been around the game his whole life and he’s played and coached for years, I think he’s just at the tip of the iceberg.
“I think he’s going to have to write another book in five or 10 years because we’re going to go through a lot in Washington.”