Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville and Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau were teammates on the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1978-79, but not for long.
Boudreau, then a 24-year-old center, was sent back to the minor-league New Brunswick Hawks after 26 games and spent most of the next 13 years bouncing from one minor-league team to another. Quenneville, then a 20-year-old defenseman who like Boudreau had started the season in New Brunswick, spent the next 12 years in the NHL.
More than 26 years later, Boudreau still is trying to catch up to Quenneville. In eight full seasons as an NHL coach with the Washington Capitals and Ducks, Boudreau has won seven division titles. He is 363-167-69 in the regular season — reaching the 200- and 300-victory mark faster than any coach in NHL history. His points percentage of .664 is the best among coaches with 500 more games in the NHL.
But he knows he has one hump to get over and Quenneville stands in his way. For all of Boudreau’s regular-season success, this is the first time his team has played in the conference final. Quenneville, meanwhile, has won two Stanley Cups and has the Hawks in the conference final for the fifth time in seven seasons.
Boudreau knows what he’s up against.
“He’s going to be in the Hall of Fame when he’s done,” Boudreau said Saturday when asked about facing Quenneville in the Western Conference final. “He’s done a great job. They could have won the Cup three years [out of five]. But they didn’t. But he’s a great coach. He’s going to be tough to try to outwit. I don’t know if I can do it, but we’ll try.”
Boudreau just beat one Cup-winning coach in Calgary’s Bob Hartley. Now he’ll try to build on that momentum — if it still exists seven days after clinching that second-round series with the Flames — and topple a two-time Cup winner in his old buddy Quenneville.
The oft-candid Boudreau isn’t afraid to acknowledge the difficulty in beating an opposing coach. Prior to Game 7 against the Red Wings in the first round in 2013, he admitted the pressure of trying to out-with Wings coach Mike Babcock was a chore.
“I know at the end of each of these games, I’m pretty whipped,” Boudreau said. “That tells me I’m having to do more thinking than I really want to do. And besides, when you’re trying to match wits with Mike [Babcock], who has been in every pressure situation in the world, it’s not the easiest thing.”
The Ducks, who had lost Game 6 of that series in overtime at Joe Louis Arena, also lost Game 7 at Honda Center.
Quenneville has the edge in playoff experience and accomplishment. But he has a healthy respect for Boudreau as a friend and rival coach.
“Gabby’s done a great job as a coach. He’s got some personality. He’s won here. He’s won in a lot of places. Did a good job in Washington, as well. Won in the American League. He was one of those players that was dangerous.
“As a player and as a coach, he’s evolved to being at the top here with this team. He’s put them in a good spot as well. I commend him on the job he’s done. He’s a good coach.”
Boudreau, by the way, played 141 games in the NHL in parts of seven seasons. His final NHL game, in fact, was with the Blackhawks in 1985-86. Signed by Bob Pulford to a minor-league contract in the previous offseason, Boudreau was called up when Darryl Sutter suffered a separated shoulder. He played in seven games, scored one goal — a tie-breaker ina 5-3 victory over the Canucks — and was sent back to Nova Scotia of the AHL.
But even then he was geared toward coaching. He owned a hockey school in Canada at the time. Though he didn’t play with Sutter — now a two-time Cup winning coach himself with the Kings — Boudreau did play with Eddie Olczyk (the former coach of the Penguins), Bob Murray (his current GM with the Ducks), Doug Wilson (the current GM of the Sharks) and Marc Bergevin (the current GM with the Canadiens and a former Hawks assistant GM).
And he once played with Joel Quenneville, who had his own problems in the playoffs before coaching the Blackhawks. In 10 years with the Blues (1997-2003) and Avalanche (2006-08), Quenneville reached the conference final one time (2001, with the Blues). The previous year the Blues lost in the first round after winning the President’s Trophy.
“He’s a really good guy. I’ve known him for a long time,” Boudreau said when asked what he admired most about the way Quenneville has handled the ever-talented Hawks. “He’s handled [the Hawks] the same way he’s handled stuff as a player: He thinks things out; He’s calm; He’s a communicator.”