[Every day this week at Japers' Rink, we'll be sharing a new excerpt from Bruce Boudreau's forthcoming autobiography "Gabby - Confessions of a Hockey Lifer" (co-written by Tim Leone). The book, published by the good folks over at Potomac Books, Inc., hits book store shelves in October, 2009, but you can (and should) pre-order it now via Amazon.com or BN.com.
Our first excerpt finds Boudreau arriving at the Capitals' practice facility just hours after being awoken with the news that he would be the team's new head coach. Enjoy.]
The first person I saw at Kettler was Brooks Laich, a forward I coached in Hershey. He looked at me and said, "What are you doing here?" It dawned on me that the players didn’t know. I didn’t know what to say. I just told Brooksie, as innocently as possible, I was asked to come down.
I went into the coaches office, and George McPhee was there. George said he was about to tell the players. He didn’t pull me into Glen Hanlon’s office, which I thought was a classy move. Glen’s office would be closed until he cleared out everything. George went into the locker room and told the players while I sat with Dean Evason, Jay Leach, and video coach Blaine Forsythe. They were extremely magnanimous and said they’d do anything I needed. My head swirled. George returned and took me to meet the players.
To me, this was a critical moment. I could have blown it right away by going in and not knowing what I was doing. The Caps sat at the bottom of the NHL with a 6-14-1 record, which is why Hanlon was released. I wanted this team to believe in itself. I walked around the locker room as I spoke, making sure to look each player in the eye.
"Guys, I know this is a new situation," I said. "It’s a new situation for me. But I do know one thing: I know how to coach. We’re going to go out there, and we’re going to have a forty-five-minute practice right now. Then we’re going to get on the bus to play in Philadelphia tomorrow. The one thing I do know is when I was here at training camp, I thought you guys were a pretty good hockey club. You guys are good. You just don’t know it yet. We’re going to make you know it. Let’s get out there and let’s have a real good practice. We’re going to play the way we’re all capable of playing."
I looked over and defenseman Mike Green, who played for me in Hershey, was smiling. I knew Green was happy. And centerman Dave Steckel, another of my Hershey guys, was happy. I went around and talked to everybody individually to say hello. At one point, I forgot what I was saying because I glanced over to superstar winger Alexander Ovechkin and said to myself, "Oh, my God, I’m coaching Alex Ovechkin." I had to regain my train of thought.
I knew I had to get their attention. I told the assistants that it was important to me that the players hear only my voice and that I would run the whole practice.
I hadn’t had time to write a practice plan. I initially thought I wasn’t going to change much from Hanlon’s conservative, defense-oriented systems. Then, I decided, the heck with it. I changed everything to my style, which is a high-pressure game all over the ice.
[Tomorrow: Bruce Boudreau, the player.]