- CSNwashington.com - Monday, December 23, 2013

In the opinion of Capitals veteran Brooks Laich, Bruce Boudreau has as much to do with the revitalization of hockey in the District of Columbia as Alex Ovechkin.

“What he did for hockey in Washington was tremendous,” Laich said. “He put it front and center. Exciting offense, developed the players into the stars they are today. I think the town really owes him a lot.”

Monday night, Boudreau returns to Verizon Center as the head coach of the red-hot Anaheim Ducks, who lead the NHL with a 26-7-5 record. It will be Boudreau’s first time in the building since the Capitals fired him on Nov. 28, 2011.

But his legacy is not forgotten by his former players. In parts of five seasons in Washington, Boudreau, 58, took a team that was 6-14-1 under Glen Hanlon and led the Capitals to a record of 201-88-40 and four straight Southeast Division titles.

“It went from trying to develop and rebuild to trying to make the playoffs to Stanley Cup aspirations,” Laich said. “And that’s not an easy thing to do That’s a long road and he did it quickly.

“He turned hockey from a backburner sport into a front-and-center, front page, exciting, real entertaining game. Certainly, the players and organization have had a role in that, too, but he was one of the leading forces to putting hockey on the map in Washington.”

After a 20-year playing career spent mostly in the minors and a 15-year coaching career, also spent in the minors, Boudreau became the fastest coach in the NHL to reach 200 wins and he did it in his own unique way.

“He had a big heart,” Capitals center Jay Beagle said. “Any kind of struggle you were having, he was always eager to listen and helped you along. I remember him being the type of coach that really cared about his players.”

Laich said it was that relationship that set Boudreau apart from other coaches in his profession.

Bruce was sort of a new wave type of guy,” Laich said. “He came in every single morning and talked to every player. ‘Did you go to a movie last night?’ ‘Where did you eat last night?’ ‘Did you watch this hockey game?’

“He had a rapport with every guy. For me, that was something new and for a lot of other guys, too. It was very refreshing for a lot of people.”

As much as Boudreau accomplished in his four-plus regular seasons, his teams won just two of their six playoff series and with each playoff shortcoming, the pressure on him mounted. When the Caps began the 2011-12 season with a 12-9-1 record, Boudreau was fired and replaced by Dale Hunter.

Ironically, one of the defining moments of that season came the last time the Ducks visited Verizon Center on Nov. 1, 2011. Boudreau refused to play Ovechkin in the final minutes of a game they rallied to win over the Ducks. Boudreau and Ovechkin had a heated exchange on the bench near the end of that game.

Ovechkin later acknowledged he and Boudreau did not speak much near the end of Boudreau’s tenure.

Despite his rocky exit, Boudreau became the fastest NHL coach ever re-hired by another team, replacing Randy Carlyle in Anaheim two days after his firing.

In his first full season behind Anaheim’s bench Boudreau led the Ducks to their best start ever and they went on to win a Pacific Division title before losing to the Red Wings in the first round. In parts of three seasons with the Ducks, Boudreau has a record of 83-42-18.

“Look what he’s done with their team,” Laich said. “They were a team on the decline and now they’re at the tip of the standings again.”

Laich said he hopes Boudreau gets a warm reception from the Verizon Center crowd tonight.

“We’re still friends and I wish him the best,” Laich said. “Just not [Monday].”

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