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‘It’s unbelievable’: Boudreau touched by support from Canucks fans amid rumblings


VANCOUVER — Emotion is everything in sports. Joy and sadness, hope and despair, excitement and anguish. It’s what has driven the powerful play year after year and made professional sports the greatest and most compelling reality TV there is.

And the players, all the participants, feel the same emotions you do. Because they’re people, too. They’re human.

Bruce Boudreau has coached the Vancouver Canucks for just 102 games, less than 14 months, but is one of the most human and relatable people who ever stood behind their bench and out in front of the organization.

So it’s not surprising that his display of human vulnerability Friday morning when emotions halted him a couple of times, when Boudreau was asked about “the noise” about an imminent coaching change that has become deafening, affected the players who care about him Friday night. The Canucks lost 4-1 to the Colorado Avalanche.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you never see the end coming until it flattens you. But Boudreau has seen it approaching like a black, thunderous storm cell, rolling towards him from the horizon since the season began. According to numerous reports, the Canucks will replace him soon with Rick Tocchet.

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It could have been Friday, but wasn’t. It might be Saturday after the Canucks play the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Arena or it could next week. But that end is coming. We all see it.

But here’s what Boudreau did not see coming: cheers Friday night from Canucks fans who understand the embarrassment he has been subjected to and remember the fleeting joy and optimism he brought when he came to Vancouver last season. They look at the coach and see a human being. They see themselves.

“Bruce, there it is!” rang out a few times at Rogers Arena, not in celebration, but in respect. In thanks.

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“It’s unbelievable,” Boudreau said afterward. “I mean, I’ve only been here a year, but it’ll go down in my memory books out of the 48 years I’ve played and coached as the most incredible thing I’ve experienced on a personal level other than winning championships.

“It’s very touching.”

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After the morning skate, he told reporters: “I’d be a fool to say I don’t know what’s going on. Like I said before, you come to work and realize how great the game is.”

And that was when emotions first swamped him.

He got a laugh when he said his wife, Crystal, seeing social media reports that he was not on the ice for the Canucks’ skate, called and asked if everything was OK.

“It’s tough not to feel it,” he said of the noise. “Look, if you love (hockey), you want to go do it. That’s the way I shut it out — basically, you know, just realizing how much you care about the game and the players.”

And then another sudden stop. When asked what it means to him to coach in the NHL, a league he chased in professional hockey for 17 years before finally making it as a head coach at age 52, Boudreau could barely speak.

Canuck players, who support Boudreau but have contributed to his demise by allowing too many goals and accumulating too many losses, saw for themselves the anguish their coach is enduring.

“It kind of seems like the mindset and the mood kind of got to us today,” defenceman Tyler Myers said after the detached loss to the Avalanche. “You can tell guys are down; it’s not easy times right now.

“Over the course of a year, there’s going to be some noise one way or the other, especially in Vancouver. For the most part, that doesn’t bother a lot of guys. It’s just part of the game and that’s fine. But, like you said, it’s definitely more than normal. And, yeah, it does get difficult at times.”

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Myers said he has never seen anything like the situation unfolding around Boudreau, with public criticism of his performance by Canucks president Jim Rutherford, who admitted last week to contacting potential replacements for Boudreau while still making him coach the team.

“It’s hard but my wife’s helped me through an awful lot of this,” Boudreau said after the game. “I think the fact that when you always believe something good is going to happen the next day, and you’re going to wake up and it’s going to be a positive day, and when you love something so much … I once told somebody that no matter how many you lose, the greatest feeling is going behind the bench the next day. And that’s the way I feel. Tomorrow, I’ll be all excited about playing the game. You know, it’s just the way it is.

“I love to coach, I love to be with the players, I love to be behind the bench.

“This is what I’ve done my whole life from the time I could walk until now. So it’s everything. When everything is finally over, I’m going to miss it like crazy, so those are the things you think about.”

He is 68 years old. He waited two years to get his last chance with the Canucks, whose owner, Francesco Aquilini, hired Boudreau the week before he hired Rutherford last December.

Boudreau has coached 1,086 NHL games and won 617 of them. Fifty of those wins have been with the Canucks, albeit only 18 of them this season.

“He has given us everything,” Canuck centre Curtis Lazar said. “To see a guy with that much class … you can’t help but respect him. I’m very happy that the crowd was able to get behind him tonight because whatever happens happens, but he’s the type of coach you want to play for. We’ve never quit on him. We’re trying our best. Things aren’t going as well as we want but … nothing falls on his shoulders at all. It’s all on us players.”

The chants for Boudreau erupted after Elias Pettersson scored Vancouver’s only goal, at 12:32 of the second period, and then again late in the third period.

Listening behind the bench, Boudreau patted his heart.

“You can’t help but get chills,” Lazar said. “You can just tell he’s a guy that loves the game. He had a passion when he played it and he has a passion for coaching. This hurts a lot. If this thing does come to a head and the chips do fall where they may, we’re going to lose a good man.”

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