Bruce Boudreau and Inches
The Capitals were 6-14-1 when Bruce Boudreau was hired as their interim coach. They had the worst record in the NHL, and were off to their worst start in 26 years. Here's another way to put it:
We're in hell right now, gentlemen. Believe me. And we can stay here and get the [bleep] kicked out of us, or
we can fight our way back into the light, we can climb out of hell, one inch at a time.
Since that dark day, Washington is 7-4-2. They might not be the '84 Oilers just yet, but at least the franchise is now located somewhat north of hell. Boudreau, it stands to reason, must have deployed some sort of motivational wizardry, some magic set of words, some sloganeering that snapped this team out of its funk. Where does he get his inspiration?
"Movies, quite frankly," he told me.
Yup, the Caps' new boss is a movie fanatic who prefers action and adventure flicks, from crime tales to mobster dramas to historical capers. When he watches movies now, he keeps track of the motivational bits for possible use in the locker room. This was one of his standby tricks in Hershey: video montages with inspirational movie speeches spliced in between clips of team highlights.
" 'Gladiator,' 'Remember the Titans,' 'Varsity Blues,' " Brooks Laich told me.
"What's that one with Brad Pitt, where he's Achilles back in the Roman times?" David Steckel said, before a teammate helped out with "Troy."
"Whether it's 'Rudy,' 'Friday Night Lights' has a good one, 'We Are Marshall' has a good one," Boudreau said. "I'll watch movies and I'll say, 'That'll fit.' "
Of course, it's one thing to pull out that gimmick on a bunch of minor league kids hoping to break into the big-time. It's another thing to subject the best hockey players in the world to Hollywood-flavored motivation. Which is why, when Boudreau made it to the bigs, he wasn't sure whether his big-screen love should accompany him downtown. He asked a few assistant coaches and some of his players what they thought.
"And I said, 'Ah, the hell with it,' " Boudreau recalled. " 'I'm only here three games, I'm gonna do it.' "
So a few weeks back, after two consecutive losses, before a road game with Carolina, Boudreau's movies made their first appearance in an NHL locker room. This time it was Al Pacino in "Any Given Sunday," with his famous "Inches" speech, a speech Boudreau had shown to his Hershey teams three years in a row, a speech that can be viewed below.
The inches we need are everywhere around us. They're in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team, we fight for that inch. On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone else around us, to pieces for that inch. We CLAW with our fingernails for that inch. Because we know, when we add up all those inches, that's going to make the [bleeping] difference between WINNING and LOSING, between LIVING and DYING. [/bedlam]
"He talks about inches all the time," Mike Green said.
"I mean, it's kind of corny but it gets the point across," Steckel said.
"You know what, it IS corny," Boudreau said.
But who cares? It's not like the other way was working very well. Of course, the Caps lost that game, but "we played very good and we should have won," said the coach, whose club won four of its next five after movie night. "And [players] said they loved it. I'm sure when it's needed and when it's appropriate we'll do something else again."
And this isn't meant to suggest that Boudreau's inspirational techniques come solely from Pacino and Brad Pitt. He has his own homespun speeches as well.
"I don't know, it just comes out," he said. "I remember my first coaching [job], I just started saying stuff and speaking from the heart. I think if you speak from the heart a lot of things happen. I don't manufacture anything....Sometimes I get going and I say some of the stupidest things in the world. I know I've said, 'C'mon, you've got to take the bull by the hands.' And then people look at me and you lose the whole thing. I just forget what I'm talking about. I'll be ranting and then I'll say, 'Where was I?' "
But this strikes me as Joe Gibbs-style self-deprecation. I mean, look at the numbers. The numbers don't lie. This is now a winning team. The Boudreau stylebook might not include "fought their guts out" and "extremely hard-fought," but whatever's in that thing is working.
"I don't know, he says lots of things," Mike Green told me. "Some of them I don't understand, but he promotes 'em well, so they must mean something good."
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