by Domenic Gratta and Shane McAdam || AHL On The Beat Archive
A two-inch-thick mound of creamy peanut butter atop a freshly toasted bagel would probably not be the first thing someone would expect to see when walking into an AHL coach’s office.
But first-year Hamilton Bulldogs head coach Guy Boucher and his staff tend to keep things light between final buzzers and opening puck drops.
“As you can see, it’s very serious around here,” remarks Boucher sarcastically, realizing that one of his two assistant coaches got a tad overzealous with a jar of PB.
But a good sense of humor is just one of many attributes Coach Boucher brings to the Bulldogs dressing room. His personable yet exceedingly professional character becomes evident after just a few short words with the former McGill University team captain.
And although at first glance it may seem a little unorthodox, Boucher’s primary coaching philosophy is simple.
“The individual comes first, not the collective.”
This philosophy has steered Boucher on an equally unconventional path through the coaching ranks. As a matter of fact, coaching was never really on Boucher’s list of career choices growing up as a talented player himself.
“I knew I liked [coaching], but it wasn’t really something I was looking forward to doing,” he reveals.
Fate, it would seem, had Boucher, recently ranked the 15th-most influential person in Hamilton sports, on a course that would allow him to further develop his coaching prowess.
“You know, I never really applied anywhere. Even if I was trying to go this way, life would say ‘No, you’re going that way.’”
Boucher’s coaching resume is notable for a man who celebrated his 38th birthday this past August. His career has seen him coach in France, at McGill with current Bulldogs assistant Martin Raymond, and in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies from 1997-2000. He also had the opportunity to coach Sidney Crosby with the Rimouski Oceanic, also of the QMJHL, where Boucher spent three seasons from 2003-06, winning a league championship and going to the Memorial Cup final in 2005. Boucher spent time as a head coach in the Quebec Midget AAA Developmental League as well.
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Prior to joining the Bulldogs, Boucher spent three seasons at the helm of the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL. Last season, he led his team to a franchise-record 54 wins en route to regular season and playoff championships, complemented by a birth in the Memorial Cup.
Boucher also has plenty of international experience, as he coached with the Canadian Under-18 team on three occasions, winning gold in 2008. He was also an assistant under current Edmonton Oilers head coach Pat Quinn with last year’s gold-medal-winning Canadian World Juniors squad, guiding the team’s power play to a 50-percent success rate.
But what Boucher brings to the Bulldogs is not merely limited to his extensive coaching background. The Notre-Dame-du-Lac, Que., native credits some of his perspective on coaching to his wide-ranging academic repertoire.
Boucher holds bachelor’s degrees in both history and engineering from McGill University, and has also received a master’s degree in sports psychology from the University of Montreal.
As a result of his studies in sports psychology, Boucher has learned and adopted the principle that every human mind is unique, and therefore every athlete requires a slightly different method of coaching than the person next to him.
“What is true for you certainly might not be true for somebody else,” Boucher says.
So what has been the key to all of Boucher’s success behind the bench? For one, Boucher is clear about how he treats his players, and believes that getting to know each one of them – not as hockey players, but as people – is the crucial means to tapping into individual on-ice potential.
“Me and my staff are concerned about the person first, not the hockey player.”
Boucher has plenty of first-class help in getting more familiar with his players. Assistant coaches Martin Raymond and Daniel Lacroix bring a wealth of hockey knowledge and experience that go a long way in better relating to players, and therefore being able to coach them more effectively.
“People say we coach little businesses, but I don’t believe in that,” he says.
This approach has led to great on-ice success for the Bulldogs, who have been at or near the top of the North Division standings all season long.
Boucher’s ability to truly concern himself with his players on a more personal level has resulted in a team with the desire to buy into his system.
“I truly believe that players will care about what you say only if you care about them,” Boucher says.
For him, developing AHL players does not necessarily mean giving them substantial ice time with the hope that more experience will result in more potential being realized, and faster.
Instead, Boucher takes pride in rewarding his players with ice time. Only those Bulldogs who have played well enough and who have worked hard enough will see the ice during crucial game situations. And, as he explains, this can vary from night to night.
“If you’ve got a guy playing who doesn’t deserve to play at that particular moment because he hasn’t done what he was supposed to, then that’s not development, that’s giving him the easy way out,” he says.
“Learning is the hard way out.”
Boucher acknowledges the fact that his job in this regard is made easier by the Bulldogs’ parent club, the Montreal Canadiens.
“We’ve been very fortunate in the fact that the Canadiens have always, since the beginning of the year, brought up the guys who deserved it. Work-ethic-wise, attitude, commitment, all the guys they’ve brought up, at that particular moment, are the guys who deserved it. That makes it a lot easier for us to push forward the values that we need, the work ethic that we need, and what we’re asking of [the players], because they’re rewarded for the right reasons.”
Assistant coaches Lacroix and Raymond have bought into Boucher’s system as well and believe he is steering the Bulldogs in the right direction.
“His philosophy is pretty clear, that we have to coach to get to know the [players] first,” says Lacroix.
“As a philosophy from a head coach, not only does [Guy] say it, but he lives it on a day-to-day basis.”