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THE BRAIN THAT SAVED TAMPA BAY
Austin Murphy
May 16, 2011
After winning the Cup in 2004, the Lightning sank into a deep funk. New ownership, a new G.M. and, above all, an innovative, cerebral new coach have made the franchise the surprise of the postseason
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May 16, 2011

The Brain That Saved Tampa Bay

After winning the Cup in 2004, the Lightning sank into a deep funk. New ownership, a new G.M. and, above all, an innovative, cerebral new coach have made the franchise the surprise of the postseason

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Wilfrid succumbed to bone cancer in 1989, when his son was 17. Six months later his mother, Solange, told him that she, too, had cancer. She beat it. "My mom's extremely tough," says Guy. "We took a lot from our parents. We're fighters."

Boucher earned an academic scholarship to prestigious McGill University in Montreal. While working toward degrees in history and biosystems engineering, he played center for the Redmen from 1991 to '95. In his final season he was coached by Martin Raymond, now one of his assistants in Tampa. Raymond remembers his former charge as "a small, fast, shifty skater who played with a lot of creativity offensively."

Raymond's co--head coach was Jamie Kompon, now an assistant with the Kings. Kompon recalls Boucher's focus and intensity. "Sometimes we had to remind him, 'Guy, this is your release. It's O.K. to have fun.'"

After college Boucher played a season in France. A mysterious virus made him ill for a year and a half, putting an end to his playing career. Boucher turned to coaching, joining Raymond's staff at McGill in 1997, then went back to school—this time to the Université de Montréal, where he began studying sports psychology in 2000. "It was an amazing feeling to be in class," he recalls, "and thinking, 'So that's why that didn't work [when I was coaching]', or 'That's why that worked.' It clarified a lot of things. It gave me a lot of tools."

He put those tools to excellent use. In 2008--09, in his third season as coach of the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he took the Volts from worst to first in the standings, improving 79 points over the previous season and coaching the club to the first league championship in its history. He duplicated that success in his first season in pro hockey, as head coach of the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs in 2009--10. Despite making do without many of his best players—who were often called up to the parent club, the Montreal Canadiens—Boucher coached Hamilton to a 115-point season and the third round of the playoffs.

"It's not just that he won a lot," notes Julien BriseBois, the Bulldogs' general manager who hired Boucher in 2009. (BriseBois is now an assistant G.M. with the Lightning.) "It was how much our players progressed throughout that season." That held true, says BriseBois, for everyone from star-of-the-future P.K. Subban, now in Montreal, to journeyman, stay-at-home defenseman Alex Henry. "[Henry's] skating got better, his puckhandling got better," says BriseBois.

"A lot of people talk about the 1-3-1," says Raymond, "but I think Guy's people skills are his biggest asset." One of those skills, says Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer, is that Boucher knows when to stop talking. "I noticed—actually my wife noticed it first—" he says, "that Guy is a great listener."

"I don't coach systems; I coach people," says Boucher, who does a deep dive into the lives of each of his players in an attempt to find out what makes them tick, how best to motivate them. And, all those years after his college coaches told him it was O.K. to have some fun in the sport, he's taken that message to heart. After playoff wins over the Manitoba Moose, recalls Andlauer, Boucher invited players to take a sledgehammer to miniature ceramic moose figurines.

J. Edgar Hoover passed away in 1972, so this keg-shaped man boarding the elevator to the press box at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa must be ... Scotty Bowman! And so it is. The winningest coach in NHL history has a house in nearby Sarasota and is a frequent guest of the Lightning. Yzerman, of course, won a Cup under Bowman in 2002. Bowman retired from coaching immediately thereafter and these days is looking more tanned and relaxed than he did during his years behind the bench. Renowned as an innovator in his own right—remember the left-wing lock?—Bowman has taken a special interest in Boucher. They've had some long conversations, Bowman said before Game 3 against the Capitals. "And I've been impressed. Just from the kinds of questions he asked me, I could tell he's ... different."

The main difference between them, other than the nine Cups won by Bowman as a coach, is generational. Whereas Bowman was not interested in a dialogue, recalls Yzerman, "[Guy] wants the player to know what he's thinking, and to know what that player is thinking."

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