Ducks’ Bruce Boudreau is a traveling salesman
The question appeared designed to generate a pithy, run-of-the-mill sound clip, one about wading into the Kings-Ducks rivalry waters.
Instead, Bruce Boudreau looked into the camera and with three sentences made the Kings-Ducks competition sound, well, compelling and worth tracking Tuesday night in Anaheim. This, a matchup between a team with 13 wins (the Kings) and one in a free fall (the Ducks).
“I think there’s going to be a lot of hatred on both sides. When I was part of the Kings’ organization, they certainly didn’t like the Ducks,” said Boudreau, the newly minted Ducks coach who coached in the Kings’ minor league system for six years, first at Lowell, Mass., and then Manchester, N.H.
“Now that I’m here, I certainly don’t like the Kings.”
The inner marketer in Boudreau, the man fondly called “Gabby,” is never far from the surface. To the casual sports fan, he landed with an explosion by becoming the lovable obscenity-spewing star of the HBO series “24/7,” coaching the Washington Capitals.
But this was someone who learned how to coach and sell long ago, starting in Muskegon (Mich.) of the International Hockey League and taking those skills to the Mississippi Sea Wolves of the East Coast Hockey League. He quickly figured out it might help spur sales by saying he hated the rival team and people of Louisiana, taking a cue from pro-wrestling marketing.
One of his closest friends was former Kings coach and ESPN analyst Barry Melrose, dating back to their playing days. In fact, they fought against each other before they became friends, getting into a scrap at Melrose’s first practice with the Maple Leafs in the 1980-81 season.
“He’s always disheveled. He’s spending a lot more money on his wardrobe right now, but as you’ve noticed, he still looks disheveled,” Melrose said, laughing, in a telephone interview Monday. “When you used to eat beside Gabby, you would ask for two napkins.
“One, you’d put on the lap and the other you’d put on the shoulder closest to Gabby. My right shoulder was covered and [teammate] Johnny Anderson, he’d have his left shoulder covered.”
In fact, Boudreau played his final game as a professional for Melrose, filling in during the American Hockey League playoffs in the 1991-92 season when Adirondack was hit by injuries.
Said Boudreau: “When I bought my first house in St. Catharines, [Ontario], he [Melrose] slept in the house. We had no furniture. We both slept on the floor together.”
One of Boudreau’s roommates in his playing days is now a divisional rival, Sharks Coach Todd McLellan. They were together in Springfield (Mass.) of the AHL in the late 1980s.
“Gabby was a much older player than most of us, but he was the one who kept us all together,” McLellan said Monday. “He’s been through it all. He has played with great players and against great players and some you’ve never heard of. And he had a story all the time.”
There was almost no question that Boudreau was going to spend his career in hockey. Although he did tell an amusing story about truly botching a job interview for a municipal job in St. Catharines during the latter days of his playing career.
“Of course, I didn’t come close to getting it,” Boudreau said. “I said there’s no chance for me getting this job. I don’t know anything else, so I’ve got to do hockey.
“It was going to be a profession. I was going to stay in the game as long as I could. I played for 17 years. I knew this was all I was going to do. I always come back. This is all I think and breathe, other than family. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have taken a job two days after I got fired.”
Boudreau was dismissed by the Capitals a week ago Monday, conducted his first Ducks practice by Thursday and was behind the bench against the Flyers on Friday night. Now he will be coaching Tuesday against the Kings’ Terry Murray, who, coincidentally, got his first NHL head coaching break in Washington.
One of Boudreau’s Ducks assistants, Bob Woods, was with him in Washington and, before that, as a player/assistant coach with the ECHL team in Mississippi.
“He loves the game,” Woods said. “He thinks about the game 24/7. A lot of times he doesn’t sleep because of it. He cares so much.…I know he’s not doing much sleeping right now till he’s comfortable with what’s going on.”
The Capitals were in an even worse situation than the Ducks, last place overall (6-14-10) when Boudreau took over in late November in the 2007-08 season. Washington went on to make the playoffs.
He plans on taking those same lessons to Anaheim.
“Instead of doing what they were doing, I said, ‘The hell with it,’ ” Boudreau said. “That’s what I’ve learned. I can’t do what would work for somebody else.
“I’ve got to do what I do because it’s been successful for me.”
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