Whatever you think of Bruce Boudreau, he will forever be a part of DC hockey lore. He transformed the Washington Capitals into contenders, won the Jack Adams his first year behind the bench, and he invigorated a languid fan base. He had stories; amazing hockey stories. After talking with Caps radio man John Walton, I’m ready to share one of Bruce’s most legendary moments.
On December 26, 2006, Bruce Boudreau — a few months after his first AHL championship and exactly a full year before he was permanently hired as head coach of the Washington Capitals — jumped onto a bus with the Hershey Bears for a 220-mile jaunt up I-95 to Bridgeport, Connecticut. The Bears had Christmas off and were forced to travel the day of the game. The drive usually takes about three and a half hours.
The team ran into post-holiday traffic, pushing their arrival time back a few hours. When the Bears finally arrived at the Arena at Harbor Yard, they had just 20 minutes before warm-ups. As each player grabbed his gear off the bus, they ran to the locker room. Boudreau, who always preferred the comfort of his track-suit on the bus, grabbed his only companion, a suit bag, and headed inside to the visiting team’s coaches’ office along with assistant Bob Woods and general manager Doug Yingst.
John Walton, then the radio announcer for the Hershey Bears, also traveled with the team and sprinted up the stairs to the press area. As he scrambled to get ready for the live broadcast, he was met with an odd sight:
“My boss at the time, Doug Yingst, came running out the zamboni gate, right next to the locker room, and he’s screaming at me and motioning to me to come down to the locker room,” Walton revealed in a phone interview. “It was incredibly odd. It’s certainly the last place I would be needed 20-minutes before warm-ups, while I’m trying to get us on the air. So I said to myself, whatever it is, it must be very important.
Walton, not wanting to disappoint the man who controls his job security, ran down those same steps he just ran up to meet Yingst at ice level.
“Doug then puts his arm around my shoulders as we walked down the tunnel and into the Bears locker room,” Walton explained. “He says to me,’We have a problem. We think you can help, and you’re not going to like it.’”
It was at that point the two walked into the dressing room. The players are doubled over in laughter. “I feel like I’m walking into the Twilight Zone,” Walton continued “I don’t know what’s going on. We’ve gone from super urgent — let’s get this show on the road — to everybody’s laughing hysterically. I had no idea why.”
As Walton and Yingst entered the coaches’ office, they first found assistant Bob Woods in the fetal position, laughing on the floor. Next, they saw Boudreau, the Bears’ usually jolly head coach, staring back at them helplessly in his boxer shorts. Mad.
In a rush to catch the bus, Boudreau had forgotten to pack his size 40-plus slacks.
Walton, still confused as to why he was asked downstairs, blurted out,”‘Well what do you need me for? Why am I here?’ And as I’m asking the question,” Walton explains. “I realize. ‘Oh, God.’”
Boudreau and Yingst, not wanting to sully the organization’s reputation or violate hockey decorum, rejected a suggestion for the entire coaching staff to wear their track suits during the game.
“So there was an exchange,” Walton, carefully choosing his words, said. “He took my [size 32] suit pants that didn’t fit and I took his — shall we say — slightly bigger track pants. I went trudging up to the press box holding up each side [of the pants] or I was going to have a problem. I’m sure people up in the press box thought I lost a bet.”
Boudreau then shuffled out to the Bears bench. “[The pants] were tight,” Boudreau explained in an interview with the Ducks’ website. “They were so tight, I never moved one inch behind the bench. If the puck would have been shot at me, I was done because I couldn’t move. I could hardly breathe. Bob was doing line changes and I was just holding my breath the whole game.”
Walton’s pants proved to be both lucky and durable. Riding two goals from Kyle Wilson and individual tallies from Alexandre Giroux, Dave Steckel, Louis Robitaille, and Quintin Lang, the Bears defeated Bridgeport 6-3. It would be the only time they beat the Sound Tigers on the road all season.
The pants made it through without a rip.
A week later, The Hockey News published a story about the Bears and their super start to the season. The night they defeated Bridgeport, their record stood at 21-4-3-4. Yingst and Boudreau told their versions of the pants story. The lede for the article was that the Bears were getting contributions from all across the roster– including the press box.
Nearly six years later, a lot has changed. Boudreau had been hired and fired by the Capitals and is now head coach of the Anaheim Ducks. He coached Alex Ovechkin during his MVP seasons and won a Jack Adams trophy as coach of the year. Walton, got his own call-up, getting his dream job as the voice of the Caps.
But Walton still keeps those slacks in his closet, the pair Boudreau wore on December 26, 2006.
“At some point when I got the job in Washington, I thought about it and said ‘I can’t get rid of these. It’s too good of a story.’ I’m not sure if I’m going to put them in a frame or not, but it’s a significant testament to friendship and hockey family. I choose to hold onto them. I certainly remember it fondly.”
And now you can too.
Boudreau gives his version of the story in the video above.
Thanks to Elliotte Friedman, who linked to a Boudreau interview about the story in his latest 30 Thoughts.