FLINT, Mich. -- He was leaning back against the rail down there in the corner of Perani Arena, dipping his hand into a bag of popcorn, and when you saw him 17 years fell away with an audible thump.
Last time I saw Bruce Boudreau was 1994 and he'd just been fired as the head coach of the Fort Wayne Komets. This time the circumstances were ... well, somewhat different.
This time he was in Perani Arena watching his son, Ben, play for a Turner Cup with the Flint Generals, same as he did in 1991 and 1993. And the only reason he was here is because a goalie wearing the colors of the Montreal Canadiens got hot at the right time, and knocked Boudreau's Washington Capitals out of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The top-seeded Washington Capitals. The best-record-in-the-NHL Washington Capitals. The Washington Capitals for whom Boudreau is head coach, and for whom he won NHL Coach of the Year honors last year.
It was a classic story: Minor league lifer toils in obscurity for years and years, then catches his big break and runs with it. And then, this year, has the past come back to haunt him in a sense, as Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak turned into, well, some sort of Pokey Reddick, circa 1993, against the Caps.
"I haven't seen a goalie play like that," said Boudreau, who earned his nickname -- Gabby -- years ago for his willingness to talk, and has lost none of his skill in that area. "I remember when Pokey Reddick stood on his head and we won, and you had Stephane Beauregard one year stood on his head when we lost one year to Peoria and was outstanding. But nothing like this.
"The last game we took 100 shots at him. They blocked 41 and he stopped 40. And 18 missed the net. It was to me unprecedented. We're all lookin' for answers as to why, and in the end it wasn't a real complicated issue. The goalie played great. And goalies can steal series."
And because Halak did, Boudreau had the opportunity to be in Flint on Friday to watch his son. Which, he admits, is both rare and not always pleasant.
"I saw him during the Olympic break once," he said. "It's the only time I've ever seen him play in 10 years anyway. I'm a really nervous cat. I'm nervous watching him out there in the warmups."
He shook his head.
"It's amazing. You go through your team, guys get hurt, get hit, recover. Been through it all. But when it's your own kid, it's a little bit different."