Canucks: Bruce Boudreau’s comedic timing balances barking with sharp wit

“When I’m ticked off they know it, but you have to show you care about them or they won’t care about you.” — Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau.

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Humor has always been Bruce Boudreauis the main advantage.

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To demand maximum performance and discipline from his best players – holding their feet to the fire as they walk away from the structure – he knows humor can defuse a fractious situation to bring them back into the fight.

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Boudreau often played this card during NHL head coaching stops in Washington, Anaheim, Minnesota and Vancouver because, quite frankly, how can you stay mad at someone who makes you laugh out loud?


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Boudreau’s long journey as a player and coach has provided the 67-year-old lifer with plenty of nourishment and allowed him to build relationships with young and veteran players. And he’s still a kid at heart, so his passion for wrestling, football and baseball can come into any conversation.

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“A lot of times it’s when you’re so cut off and you’ve been playing long,” Boudreau told Postmedia. “I always thought I could play in the NHL and I never stuck. “But I always had to think that when things weren’t going well, I had to believe that good things were happening. That’s the positive approach I take.

“I’ve been in the business for so long. It must work. But believe me, there are times when I get really down and try not to show it to anyone. My philosophy is that there are 23 individuals and my job is to find the Achilles’ heel in everyone – what makes them tick.

“Sometimes you have to yell at guys and sometimes you can’t because they fold. And then you have to approach them from a different angle.

“It’s my job to find a way to make them the best player they can be. And when I’m ticked off, they know it, but you have to show you care about them or they won’t care about you. When I started playing, the coaches didn’t care about you.

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“Now players are asking why and you have to have an answer. Is something bothering them? What can I do to make them better?”

Vancouver Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau briefs players during the team's training camp in Whistler.
Vancouver Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau briefs players during the team’s training camp in Whistler. Photo by DARRYL DYCK /THE CANADIAN PRESS

Boudreau was a junior champion and had 165 points (68-97) with the Toronto Marlboros in 1974-75, but like so many others trying to make it to the Show, he couldn’t find traction in the 18-team league. He would record 141 games in NHL stoppages at Toronto and Chicago and 779 in the minors before his career ended in 1992 and the bench became a better fit.

The aspiring NHL center said his journey through the World Hockey Association, North American Hockey League, Central Hockey League and American Hockey League gave him perspective. That would be his strength in winning the East Coast Hockey League and AHL championships and guiding the Ducks to the third round of the playoffs.

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Elias Pettersson had one goal in 12 games when Boudreau arrived in Vancouver. He reached the center on several levels of support by putting him on the wing for less responsibility and more scoring chances. He outnumbered him and trusted Pettersson. He responded with career highs in goals (32) and points (68.)

“He just wants me to work hard,” Pettersson said. “I like him as a coach. He’s serious and can be tough on you, but he’s tough because he wants the best out of you. It’s a good balance, so I think it’s great.

Boudreau’s ability to hit the often tough JT Miller on multiple levels helped lead a career 99-point season and it’s not lost on the wing-turned-center.

“A real nice guy,” Miller said. “He asks you about your family, how was your day off and if you enjoyed your time off. He expects a lot from our group. He pushes them to be better and has a standard and he lets us know if we don’t follow it.

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A snapshot of that happened Jan. 30 in Calgary where Miller was determined to play the overtime hero.

He attempted a kick, took a slash and his disdain for the no-call was evident. He didn’t pick up his stick, go to the bench, and come back to avoid an odd man rush. Johnny Gaudreau made the slap shot easily and Boudreau was in disbelief.

“It’s not acceptable,” he said of the gaffe. “It’s a terrible play. This will not happen again.

Vancouver Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau walks past the locker room before their NHL game against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Arena on December 10, 2021.
Vancouver Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau walks past the locker room before their NHL game against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Arena on December 10, 2021. Photo by Jeff Vinnick /PNG

Boudreau is entering the option year of a contract that offers little security. Management has a checklist of needed improvements – especially defense and breakouts – and hailed a 32-15-10 run under Boudreau. But it wasn’t a full-season work book.

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Read what you want there.

The owner hired Boudreau. He then hired president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford, who promoted Pittsburgh protege Patrik Allvin to general manager. And Allvin has a prior connection to the Penguins with current Canucks assistant coach Mike Yeo. He served as Pittsburgh’s assistant coaching staff from 2006 to 2010, when Allvin was the club’s director of amateur scouting.

Boudreau does not dwell on what may or may not be at stake.

“For the most part, I think I’m doing a good job,” he said. “I just don’t care. I’m a worry wart about everything and if I worried about it, I’d be a mess. And I can’t afford to be a mess.

bkuzma@postmedia.com

twitter.com/benkuzma


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