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When November 22 rolls around each year, most Americans above a certain age associate the day with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It is also a day that is close to Thanksgiving, either on the day before or even Thanksgiving Day itself. But Washington Capitals fans also associate it with a different event.
In November 2007, the Washington Capitals had a 6-14-1 record, which was the worst in the league. They had lost their last five games in a row, including the last two at home, and had just lost 5-1 to the Atlanta Thrashers on the night before Thanksgiving. Then-General Manager George McPhee figured it was time to fire Glen Hanlon, the team’s head coach at the time.
On Thanksgiving morning, November 22, Bruce Boudreau, Head Coach of the Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate Hershey Bears, received a phone call at 6:30 a.m. He feared the worst but was relieved that it was Doug Yingst, the President and General Manager of the Hershey Bears, especially given that the Bears had won the night before. Yingst told him he would be appointed head coach of the Caps and that McPhee would be calling soon. Ten minutes later, McPhee called. While he was only offered the title of Interim Head Coach, he was still free to use whatever system he wanted, and he was to coach the team’s practice at Kettler Iceplex in Arlington at 10:30 a.m. that morning.
Hence, he made the drive from his home in Harrisburg, PA to Arlington. The first person he ran into was forward Brooks Laich, who he had formerly coached in Hershey. Laich was shocked and asked, “What are you doing here?” Boudreau wasn’t sure what to do. Soon, the players were called into a meeting and informed of the coaching change.
The Caps won their next game (Boudreau’s first as head coach), an overtime affair in Philadelphia. Before the season was over, the Caps played better, caught fire during March and April, won their last five games, and vaulted into the playoffs. They ended the season with a 42-31-8 record and a first place finish in the Southeast Division. They ended up losing in the first round of the playoffs. Still, this coaching performance earned Boudreau Coach of the Year honors, as the winner of the Jack Adams Trophy. The Caps continued to be a good team under Boudreau for the following three years, with three more first place finishes in the Southeast Division. They were second in the Eastern Conference in 2008-2009, won the President’s Trophy in 2009-2010, and first in the Eastern Conference in 2010-2011. Playoff success eluded them.
Still, Boudreau was one of the best coaches in Washington Capitals history and helped turn the Caps from perennial losers, into perennial contenders.
By Diane Doyle