Bruce Boudreau was less than 24 hours into his tenure as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks when the chants began.
The Canucks were up big against the L.A. Kings and fans inside Rogers Arena expressed their appreciation for the new bench boss by yelling “Bruce, there it is!” to the tune of Tag Team’s legendary 1993 rap song “Whoomp! (There It Is).”
Vancouver blanked L.A. 4-0 that night, kicking off a 8-0-1 streak for a team that sputtered and stalled through the first third the season.
The chants have continued not only in the stands, but when Boudreau is out and about in Vancouver, too.
“The thing about “Bruce, there it is!” is that they make it about me. And I don’t want it to be about me,” the veteran NHL coach said recently, noting that the reception is unlike anything he’s ever experienced before.
“It’s about the players. They’re the ones who are doing the work, they’re the ones who are committing themselves to doing things the right way.”
The Canucks lingered in the basement of the Pacific Division at the beginning of December. An ugly 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 4 was the final straw — the next day, the team made sweeping changes, firing head coach Travis Green, general manager Jim Benning and several other front office and coaching staff. Boudreau was named head coach, signing on through the 2022-23 season.
Hailing from Toronto, Boudreau’s hockey roots run deep. The former centre played 134 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1976 to 1982 and seven for the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1985-86 season.
He went on to work behind benches in the minors for several years before being named head coach of the Washington Capitals in November 2007. That season, he won the Jack Adams Award as the league’s top coach after guiding the floundering Caps through a bounce back campaign.
Head coaching jobs with the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild followed his time in Washington, and Boudreau was named to Hockey Canada’s coaching staff for the Spengler Cup just days before he was hired by the Canucks.
The 67-year-old said his first month on the job has been “outstanding.”
“It’s pretty hard to say it’s been anything other than incredibly good,” he said. “We haven’t lost a game (in regulation) yet. I know that eventually that’s not going to happen but I always say ‘Why not?’”
After a dismal start to the year, the Canucks currently sit just four points out of a playoff spot with a 16-15-3 record.
Under Boudreau, players who slumped to start the season have flourished and parts of Vancouver’s game that were liabilities have become strengths.
The team boasted the worst penalty kill in the league (64.6 per cent) and had capitalized on just 17.4 per cent of its power plays when the club cleaned house.
In the last nine games, the Canucks have killed off 17-of-19 penalties and the power play has improved to 20.6 per cent on the season.
With Boudreau at the helm, Vancouver has transformed into an offensively aggressive team that refuses to quit.
It’s a style that players enjoy, said the Canucks’ newest assistant coach, Scott Walker.
“Obviously you have to be dedicated to your craft defensively, but he really wants you to go out there and be offensive,” he said.