Boudreau Travels Long Road to His Desired Destination

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 10, 2007

In Bruce Boudreau's dreams, he always landed his first NHL head coaching job after leading a minor league team to a record-setting regular season, winning the league championship, then sitting back as general managers tripped over one another bidding for his services.

That's not exactly how he wound up behind the Washington Capitals' bench. But after 15 seasons coaching in places such as Muskegon, Mich., Fort Wayne, Ind., Lowell, Mass. and Hershey, Pa., and being passed over too many times to count, Boudreau isn't complaining. Even if the Capitals have the NHL's worst record, one of the league's lowest payrolls and the word "interim" precedes his title, at long last he has been given his shot.

"The people who know me, know that all I've wanted to do is hockey," said Boudreau, who had been the head coach of the Hershey Bears, the Capitals' top affiliate. "Once I realized that becoming a regular in the NHL, as a player at least, probably wasn't going to happen, I turned to coaching because hockey is the only thing I know."

A decade and a half of riding buses and sleeping in motels paid off at 6:30 a.m. Nov. 22 -- Thanksgiving day -- the morning after the Capitals' 5-1 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers. General Manager George McPhee was on the line. Glen Hanlon was out and Boudreau, after 1,045 games and championships in both the ECHL and AHL, was in.

"I missed his call that morning, but I phoned him back right away," said John Anderson, Boudreau's best friend and coach of the AHL's Chicago Wolves. "I said, is this the head coach of the Washington Capitals? He said, 'Yes it is.' Sometimes it's being at the right place at the right time. He had the resume and was in the right place."

Boudreau, one of the game's most colorful personalities (he was even an extra in the 1977 movie "Slap Shot"), has already proven that he's not out of his league.

The Capitals are 4-3-1 under their new coach, a 52-year-old Toronto native, after winning only once in the 10 games before the coaching change. McPhee said he's pleased with the progress the team has made, but he said a decision about Boudreau's future in Washington has not been made and that there's no timetable for one.

"He was about as smart a player as you've ever seen, and he brings the same instincts to the bench," McPhee said. "He makes everyone accountable."

The Capitals have quickly found out that underneath Boudreau's unassuming persona lies an intense, no-nonsense drive. . Five minutes into his tenure, he ordered a veteran player to skate a lap for not hustling over to the eraser board when he blew his whistle for the first time. Then on Friday, after a listless 3-2 loss in New Jersey, Boudreau criticized the team for a weak first-period effort, singling out some players by name.

That got their attention. It also elicited the desired result from a team that so far has underachieved. The Capitals played one of the best opening periods of the season the following night against Atlanta, cruising to a 6-3 victory.

"Bruce tells it like it is, and he's not afraid to do that," said center David Steckel, one of seven Capitals who played for Boudreau in Hershey. "If we're not playing well, he'll tell us. He'll call guys out."

Center Brooks Laich, another former Bear, added: "He's not above yelling at anybody. Doesn't matter if you're a veteran or a rookie. He's the exact same as he was in Hershey, down to the awful ties and the bad suits."

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