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Excerpts from "Gabby - Confessions of a Hockey Lifer," Part IV

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<em>Book cover art courtesy Potomac Books, Inc.</em>
Book cover art courtesy Potomac Books, Inc.

[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 or

Today's excerpt gives you a little taste of some of the coaching philosophy that runs through the book...]

You never hear about a coach’s style until he gets to the NHL. Nobody talked about my style in the AHL. All of a sudden, when I took over the Caps, the mantra was that Bruce Boudreau had brought his offensive-minded, aggressive-attack style to the NHL.

I guess this was easy to say because my style contrasted with Glen Hanlon’s conservative approach. But that’s a false analysis—a bad analysis. I’ve been labeled as an offensive coach because I was an offensive player, but my teams play defense. Our goal as a team is to be proactive. If we’re going to make a mistake, we want the mistake on our terms. We want to make the mistake playing our game rather than make the mistake while reacting to the other team’s game. Our game is applying pressure in every zone.

Because we attack and don’t sit back, critics think we’re ignoring defense. Not true. It’s really about taking time and space away from everybody anywhere on the ice so they can’t make a play and creating a turnover. Pressure defense is what I call it. We apply pressure to create turnovers and then attack when we get the puck.

Once you adapt to the style, you’re able to attack and defend. I’ve always been confused by teams that try to do one or the other. You can do both. When you do both, they feed off each other. Attacking well helps defensively; defending well helps offensively.

If an opposing team has puck possession in their defensive zone, my philosophy is that it’s stupid to retreat and let them come to the blue line or red line and gain a head of steam when we can check them in their zone. By checking them in their zone, any potential turnover comes in a spot where we’re able to score. We’re close to their goal and they’re far from our goal. That’s simple geography that even I can understand. Letting them clear their zone and dump the puck puts us in our defensive zone; a mistake by us there puts them in a position to score. Why give it up?

How do we do it? We’ve got to work hard and take short shifts. That means we have to be sharp at recognizing when to come off and when to go on. I don’t know if I was a selfish player or not. Usually, offensive players in the minors like me are tagged as selfish players. I hope I wasn’t, but I’m sure ten out of ten people will tell you I was. We preach team, team, team. Out of that players will find individual success. Look at the numbers. I’ve had league-scoring champions. Guys tend to set personal career highs playing for me. But that individual success evolves from the team concept.

Our style in the offensive zone puts pressure on our defensemen and the forward with high responsibility. I call it a triangle offense. That third forward has to be responsible, and the responsibility rotates among all three forwards depending on where the puck goes. There is freedom for a defenseman to go down deep for a puck too, but somebody else has to make the read and go support the position he vacated so we’re not vulnerable to an odd-man rush.

Everything is about support. We can be as aggressive as we want offensively as long as five guys are working together. If you have three guys forechecking and a defenseman goes down low and they chip it by for a two-on-one, that’s stupid hockey. That’s not being aggressive; that’s being stupid. But if a forward cycles to the point when a defenseman goes deep and it gets chipped by for a two-on-two, that’s okay.

When players are learning the system, it might look like firewagon hockey. Because the concepts are fairly complicated, they take time to learn. But once the players learn the system and do it right, it’s great defensive hockey. The result is you score more goals, but you also allow fewer goals.

[Tomorrow: The end of a dream season.]