Exclusive: Bruce Boudreau on his final days with the Canucks and what comes next

The Athletic
Written by admin

Bruce Boudreau has been around long enough to know what was coming.

When the outside noise was that loud, when insiders were basically announcing that Rick Tocchet was going to be the incoming Canucks coach, when they were even naming Tocchet’s starting date before the outgoing coach had been fired, Boudreau knew it was more than likely true.

That’s why Boudreau coached Saturday’s Canucks game against the Oilers like it would be his last. That’s why he welled up after the morning skate the day before. That’s why he looked so beaten down in the third period and so stressed on that coach’s challenge that ultimately overturned an Oilers goal. That’s why he stayed on the bench after the final horn and looked around Rogers Arena with tears in his eyes, saluting the fans who were saluting him.

And that’s why he booked a flight home for Monday night with his wife of 28 years, Crystal, a week and a half ago.

As part of his contract with the Canucks, Boudreau and his family members receive 10 free plane tickets to and from their home in Hershey, Pa. As the rumblings grew, the Boudreaus booked one-way tickets home. After packing up every morsel of their downtown Vancouver condo the past few days, Bruce and Crystal will board a red-eye for Seattle with a connection to Harrisburg, Pa., through Atlanta.

“Better be safe than sorry, I guess,” Boudreau, chuckling, said Monday in an exclusive 45-minute interview with The Athletic. “We figured we could always change it. Unfortunately, we won’t have to. It’ll be a long day and night of flying, but we’ll be home at noon (Tuesday).”

Boudreau did have one pretty big condition for speaking on the record Monday: He wanted to take the high road. He didn’t want to pile on the mountain of criticism the Canucks have received for how this played out.

There would be no ripping of Jim Rutherford or Patrik Allvin, no pissing and moaning that he was victimized or humiliated.

He made that clear when asked even about the timing of his firing. Instead of just dismissing him after Saturday’s game, Boudreau was left to languish during one more sleepless night and simply told Saturday night to report with the rest of the coaching staff to a meeting with the Canucks’ brass at 9:30 Sunday morning.

“I enjoyed my time in Vancouver and am sad to see it end, but there’s no use rehashing everything,” Boudreau said. “I’ll just say it’s been difficult. It was difficult not knowing and thinking you’re gonna get let go and nobody telling you anything. Nobody really had to tell me, but with just the speculation and the noise outside and the reporters asking every day and reading articles about being a lame-duck coach and that it was just a matter of time, those were the things that were difficult.

“But, I mean, no one had to come right out and say, ‘You’re gonna lose your job,’ or that this was the time you’re going to lose it. I think I’m smart enough to look around me and see what was going on.”

But, as Canucks veteran defenseman Luke Schenn said over the weekend, Boudreau did his best to walk into the locker room every day with the same energy and the same upbeat style that has made him beloved with so many players, media members and fans in his many coaching stops.


“The thing that kept driving me was that you’ve got to go to work, do your job, do it the same way and with the same passion every day,” Boudreau said. “And since I’ve always been a dreamer and a believer, I believed that, ‘OK, if we could just sneak it out, something good can happen.’ And so even though in the back of my mind you knew that something was imminent, you never wanted to believe it fully. So you just worked harder and the whole coaching staff worked so hard in trying to maybe figure out that if we could maybe have won four or five in a row or something like that, then maybe the noise would slow down a little bit. But it never happened.”

That’s why Boudreau was so proud of his players during that final game Saturday night. They emptied the tank for him in that third period. The Canucks had been successful this season in overtime and shootouts (7-3), so he thought the stars were lining up when the Oilers missed an open net and he was successful during the coach’s challenge to keep the deficit at one. And the Canucks came close to forcing overtime before an Edmonton empty-netter sealed the deal.

“All these things were adding up that I felt this is gonna be a storybook ending. But I guess we ripped out the last few pages,” Boudreau said.

Asked about the stress on his face during the third, Boudreau said, “I was pretty sure that it was my last period. Nobody had said anything, but in my heart, I was pretty sure. And then I started thinking that ‘OK, if it’s my last period, is this my last time I’m going to be behind the bench of somewhere that I just love being? Is this the last time I’m going to be in front of 18,000 people trying to win with a group?

“It was sort of catching up to me a little bit. This was my 48th year of professional hockey. Sometimes you start to reflect on: What are you doing? What’s gonna happen next? And then you’ve still got to stay in the moment because we were only down 3-2. And we were really playing hard in the third period. And I thought we were going to tie it up for sure. So to keep those thoughts away from the other thoughts was a little bit difficult sometimes. Yeah, it was a hard game to coach.”

In 103 games, Boudreau’s .549 points percentage (50-40-13) ranks fourth in Canucks history. For coaches with 500 or more regular-season games, his .626 points percentage ranks fourth in NHL history.

He felt the Canucks became a “really, really good team” and got the “crowd base into it” by the end of last season. This season was a chore, but he felt the Canucks were making strides until a team that was one win above .500 on Dec. 27 lost 10 of its next 12 games.

He’ll never forget the way his tenure came to an end, but he’s looking at the bright side.

“Very rarely do coaches in any sport get a chance to say goodbye to their players,” Boudreau said. “I mean, usually you get fired, it’s on a day off or it’s after the game and the players have gone home by then. So for me to be able to walk in there and thank them for what they did for me and the effort they gave was quite an experience to have. And then to see the emotion, I’ve never seen anything like it. All of us, almost all the players and me, were crying in the room. It was crazy. Like, I mean, you’d have to see it to believe it because it’s hard to believe it just saying it.”

One high-profile player came into Boudreau’s office and was crying uncontrollably and audibly as he hugged him in front of assistants. On Sunday, Boudreau got a slew of texts from his players, including “the most beautiful text” from sometimes-maligned J.T. Miller.

Before his meeting Sunday morning, Boudreau called three of his four children. His son Andy, 33, had already flown to Vancouver from Calgary to spend the weekend with him. Boudreau called 40-year-old Kasey, 36-year-old Ben and 23-year-old Brady to let them know that it would finally be official soon.

“I wanted them to know before everyone else knew,” Boudreau said. “They’ve all been around long enough, whether it’s Crystal or the kids, that they always think when I’m fired that, ‘Dad’s gonna just go somewhere else.’ They hate it when it happens because they’re in my corner all the time, but I’d been warning them.

“Like me, they hoped something miraculous would happen to change it.”

When Boudreau was fired on Valentine’s Day 2020 by the Wild, he told The Athletic how he was blindsided. He was in the last year of his deal, but when he survived early-season rumors, his radar was down. Then, too, he didn’t know if he’d get another chance to coach again.

As it turned out, Boudreau got that chance to coach his 11th hockey team and fourth in the NHL since 1990-91. But now he’s three years older at 68. So while he hopes this isn’t it, he knows it very well could be.

“That was one of the reasons behind the bench that I was getting emotional,” Boudreau said. “Like, if you asked me, I’m in better condition to coach now than I was three years ago. That was before I had two replacements of the knees and my body was falling apart. Now I’m fine. And I feel reinvigorated. I had the energy to go out every day, and we were at the office every day between 6 and 6:30, every morning, and would stay to all hours. I don’t want to sit back on the couch and just relax.

“I love this. This is what gives you meaning when you get a chance to go to work every day and coach in the National Hockey League. The biggest thing probably is I thought I could communicate well enough with the young player still. I’ve always gotten along well with the players. But the communication, I thought, was really good. With all that being said, if it was ever offered to me again, I would jump at the chance. I’ve been doing it for almost 30 years, and I would do it forever.”

In the meantime, Boudreau expects to return to the television screen soon.

He’s already been offered an interview on Sportsnet’s “Hockey Night in Canada” this Saturday. He’s already been offered a chance to be on the panel for “TSN TradeCentre” on March 3. He’s already talked to NHL Network about returning to his previous post as a studio analyst. And he’s already done a SiriusXM interview with Gord Stellick and Scott Laughlin and hopes to return to the show once a week soon.

Mostly, he wanted to thank the fans in Vancouver who fell for the loveable character and treated him so kindly the past 13 ½ months.

“The one thing about coaching in Canada, more than any other place — and this includes Minnesota, as much as I love Minnesota and the people there who watch the game and know the game there — it is like a religion up here,” Boudreau said. “I’ve never experienced anything like it. And I loved it. I loved the fact that everybody knew what you were doing. You either fear it or you embrace it. And I embraced it.

“I just loved talking on the street. You go to a restaurant, anything, and people would come up to you and talk hockey. And when you lost, they were displeased and maybe throw the jersey on the ice. But when you won, they were the biggest fans going. If this is the last time, what a great experience.

“All coaches should get the opportunity to visit the threshold of being under the microscope of coaching in Canada.”

Boudreau said Tocchet, who previously coached in Tampa Bay and Arizona, will learn that quickly.

And by the way, Boudreau holds no ill will for Tocchet and wishes him well.

Boudreau gets it. When a coach is fired, usually the next coach is waiting in the wings. Heck, when Boudreau took over the Ducks, he was in Anaheim while Randy Carlyle unknowingly was coaching his final game.

This is the way it works in pro sports.

It’s just not usually as public and as rumored as Tocchet’s arrival was.

“Unless it’s an interim taking over, I think anybody that gets fired — anybody — the guy that’s replacing him knows well beforehand because they’ve had to negotiate, they’ve had to do all of these things,” Boudreau said. “With Anaheim, when I got the call, and they flew me out, I mean, the Ducks were playing that night, and (Bob Murray) had to go in and fire Randy after the game. I didn’t feel comfortable with that because Randy is a friend of mine and I played with him. But that’s the business. And whether it was Rick or whether it would have been (Boudreau’s best friend) John Anderson taking my job, it doesn’t really matter. It’s always the same.

“So I’m not mad at Rick Tocchet at all. At all. And I hope nobody holds this against him. This is the way it’s done. I mean, this is a great opportunity for him. I think he’ll do great. I mean, this is a hockey town. They just want to win. And he’s got a bunch of passionate players to coach with big, big hearts.”

Boudreau certainly learned that during those emotional moments behind closed doors after what actually did turn out to be his last game Saturday night.

(Top photo: Jeff Vinnick / NHLI via Getty Images)

#Exclusive #Bruce #Boudreau #final #days #Canucks

About the author


Leave a Comment