Boudreau Proud of Minor League Roots Upon Entry Into AHL Hall of Fame

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

WORCESTER, Mass., Jan. 26 -- Fourteen months after getting his big break as a coach, and seven months after winning the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's coach of the year, Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau returned to his roots for a few hours Monday.

Boudreau was inducted into the American Hockey League's Hall of Fame, earning one of minor league hockey's highest honors for his contributions as both a player and a coach to the developmental league. The AHL Hall of Fame was formed in 2006 -- the league's 70th anniversary season -- and has 18 members.

"This is a very humbling experience when you see all of the great players and hockey people that are up here," Boudreau said during a luncheon honoring this year's inductees and the AHL all-stars. "I owe the American Hockey League everything, quite frankly. Over the 30-plus years that I've played an coached, the American Hockey League has been part of it all."

Boudreau had only moments to savor the newest trophy in his collection because he left the luncheon in a rush for Boston College, where he led the Capitals in their first practice since the all-star break. After an hour-long ride by car, Boudreau arrived a few minutes late, but he quickly got down to the business of preparing his players for Tuesday's crucial contest at TD Banknorth Garden. The Capitals are 10 points behind the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins with 34 games remaining.

But before returning to the big leagues, Boudreau, who was flanked by his wife Crystal and 10-year-old son Brady, shared stories of his days playing Moncton, New Brunswick, Edmonton and Baltimore, among other places. In his speech, he spoke about all the "lifelong" friends he had made in the minors and also singled out Bruce Landon, the longtime general manager of the Springfield (Mass.) Hawks, and Hershey Bears General Manager Doug Yingst, whom he credited with getting promoted to Washington in November 2007.

"The one thing I learned about the NHL about five games into my tenure," Boudreau told the packed ballroom. "I went on a little tirade about the referees in the paper. Instead of getting the $200 fine [like in the AHL], General Manager George McPhee comes in and says [NHL disciplinarian] Colin Campbell wants to talk to you. Colie said, 'You do it again, and it's $10,000.' That was the last time I said anything negative about a referee."

Boudreau was a dynamic scorer in the AHL, amassing 483 career assists and 799 points, both of which rank 11th in AHL history, while his 316 goals rank 14th. His 1.26 points per game is second among AHL players with at least 500 career points. But he only won the scoring title once in 1987-88, with Springfield, Mass.

"I only got one," he said, smirking. "But, and let me preface this, I was leading the league a lot when I was called up."

The season Boudreau won the AHL scoring title was a memorable one for him. But for all the wrong reasons.

"I was leading our team by 60 points, and the next closest guy was" Todd McLellan, now the coach of the San Jose Sharks, Boudreau said. "Todd got called up and I was so angry. But I couldn't get called up. I was on an American Hockey League contract and you had to be on an NHL deal. I understand that now."

Boudreau's playing career ended in 1992 after he helped the Adirondack Red Wings to the Calder Cup, a trophy he captured again 13 years later as Hershey's coach.

When discussing his storybook ascension from the minors to the NHL playoffs last year, Boudreau often says he has to "pinch himself." But the 54-year-old Toronto native also recognizes that his nine seasons and 340 wins as a coach in the AHL helped him perfect his systems play and hone his skills as communicator and motivator -- unique assets that laid the foundation for his success in the NHL. In fact, those who know him best, say Boudreau hasn't changed all that much.

"I like the NHL; it's pretty nice," Boudreau said. "But by the same token -- if it never worked out in the NHL, I could go back to the American Hockey League in a heartbeat."

Boudreau doesn't have to worry about that, not with the Capitals in position to capture a second straight Southeast Division title and his name already being mentioned as a coach of the year candidate for shepherding his club through an injury-plagued December.

"The last [14] months have been pretty crazy," Boudreau said. "A lot of good things have happened to me. This is like icing on the cake."

Boudreau then paused and added: "I would like one more good team thing to happen. Why change the luck now? We might as well go for that thing as well."

The "thing" Boudreau was referring to -- the Stanley Cup -- just so happened to be on display in the same room.

Capitals Notes: Among the inductees was Jimmy Anderson, the first coach in Capitals history. . . . With defensemen Tom Poti (groin muscle pull) and Shaone Morrisonn questionable for Tuesday, rookie Karl Alzner was recalled from Hershey.

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