HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) — As the Hershey Bears honor legendary player Mike Nykoluk, former Hershey Bears Calder Cup Champion coach Bruce Boudreau was in town to pay his respects. Boudreau was a player on the Toronto Maple Leafs when Nykoluk was the head coach.
Nykoluk passed away in January 2022 at the age of 87. Nykoluk was affectionately nicknamed “The Big Bear” by Hershey Bears fans, playing 14 years for the franchise.
“It was 40 years ago, but it was one of the first chances I had in the NHL and it was definitely one of the first chances I had of having a coach who sort of talked to you and was really personable,” Boudreau said of his memories playing for Nykoluk. “Mike was a great guy, [but] he was a hard guy. I mean he was nice and smiling all the time, but when you got out to practice, he demanded a lot out of you.”
Boudreau is currently back in the NHL as the head coach of the Vancouver Canucks. In January, the fan-favorite coach surpassed 1,000 games coached in the NHL, which is an amazing feat as he never coached in the highest level of hockey until he was 53-years-old.
“I love the players and the management there,” Boudreau said. “They’re treating me great. It’s just really great to be back behind the bench. It’s my 30th year coaching and you really miss being in the battle.”
After he was fired by the Minnesota Wild, there was a point where Boudreau wondered if he would get to coach again. Although the future was uncertain, the passion for the game never left.
“No matter if you retire or you’re not working, when you’ve been in hockey all your life, being in battle with a group and you have your men with you, that’s the thing you miss most,” Boudreau said.
When Boudreau took over, the Canucks were in last place. His team quickly rattled off eight wins in nine games and things began to look exceedingly promising.
“I walked in there and I didn’t know any of the coaches and I said ‘the hell with it,'” Boudreau said of taking over the Canucks mid-season. “I’m just going to do what I do and they either hope on board or they get off. So far they’ve hoped on board, so we’ll see how it works out.”
The ability to quickly turn a team from turmoil into a contender is a theme throughout Boudreau’s coaching career.
“My approach is the same is the same as it was in Washington, as in Anaheim, as in Minnesota, it seems to work,” Boudreau said. “After about four years, they don’t like it anymore and that’s when they fire me.”
While Boudreau was back in Chocolatetown, he reflected on his early success with the Vancouver Canucks, coaching in 1,000 NHL games and his role in growing youth hockey in Pennsylvania with the Hershey Cubs.