Boudreau brothers continue hockey school tradition
From left: Bruce Boudreau, Andy Boudreau, Cooper Boudreau, Ben Boudreau. Photo: BILL POTRECZ.
The Golden Horseshoe Hockey School has been part of Ben Boudreau’s life for as long as he can remember.
The new associate coach of the Niagara IceDogs began attending the school, co-founded and run by his father, long-time National Hockey League coach Bruce Boudreau, when he was just five years old and has vivid memories of his time at the school.
“I have very specific memories, me and my brother on the very first day, fully dressed in front of my mom’s car, a Pontiac 6000 LE,” Ben Boudreau said from the Seymour-Hannah Sports Complex where the school is in full swing this week. “I remember my first day of hockey school. The nerves, the excitement, you don’t know what to expect. By the end of the first day it wasn’t necessarily the hockey, it was all the new friends I made. Kids that went to the hockey school were the same kids I grew up with and went to Michael J. Brennan and ended up graduating St. Francis with.”
Ben Boudreau and his younger brother, Andy Boudreau, loved the experience so much they stayed on and helped out their father once they were too old to attend.
“I went from being a student to aging out at 16 and then became a counsellor and then referees and then eventually we became owners,” Ben Boudreau said. “It’s come full circle. We’ve done every aspect of the camp and we’ve seen the labour of love of what it takes from my dad’s standpoint.”
One of Ben Boudreau’s greatest thrills is seeing generations of players and families attended.
“One of my big things is seeing those guys have their children in the hockey school with my children,” he said.
Bruce Boudreau began the school while playing in the American Hockey League for the St. Catharines Saints.
“We started at Gatecliff (Arena) in 1981, that summer I started with Rocky Saganiuk and after two or three years Rocky didn’t want to do it anymore so I continued to do it,” Bruce Boudreau said.
He said he quickly learned what worked and what didn’t.
“I didn’t think I’d do it for 40 years but I had 160 kids the first year,” he said. “The difference is I didn’t know what I was doing.”
He recalls St. Catharines native Brian Papineau, who went on to work as an equipment manager for the Toronto Maple Leafs, working as his lone counsellor that first year.
“Now we have six counsellors for every group,” Bruce Boudreau said. “I was on ice for eight hours a day back then. It was pretty cuckoo but you had the growing pains and all of those things and then it grew and we got smarter as most businesses do if they continue to do it.
“We had a couple of lean years but it was sort of a pet project and then it started growing and I was doing things better and it grew to the point where I gave it to the boys five years ago.”
One of the highlights of the week were the hockey souvenirs Bruce Boudreau collected while coaching in the NHL.
“We used to have the biggest banquet going. It was huge. We gave away about $100,000 worth of stuff but I just can’t keep picking everybody poor,” he said.
He gladly passed the baton to his sons who have more than kept up the tradition.
“They took it and did it and grew it again,” Bruce Boudreau said. “What really feels good is the kids have done a great job. Andy does everything and Ben is the head on-ice instructor. He does a really good job of that.”
Ben Boudreau loves the family atmosphere at the camp.
“One thing people keep saying is that it’s a family camp but that’s just not limited to my brother and my father and my sisters. It’s our hockey family in Niagara. It’s the same people that have been coming year after year to come and help,” he said. “It’s the same people, different generations. It’s takes on a life of its own.”
Bruce Boudreau still attends the camp, but now in more of an advisory capacity, and is eager to see Ben behind the bench with the IceDogs the season.
“I’m glad he was able to come home,” Bruce Boudreau said. “It’s something he wanted to do. He did a great job in Fort Wayne but they wanted to grow the kids up Canadian even though they were both born in the States.
“Darren (IceDogs owner DeDobbelaer) was great. They had a coach and two assistants and they still hired him. They know he’s good and he’s from St. Catharines and I really believe they needed a local player.”
Asked if he would like to be involved with the IceDogs in some capacity, Bruce Boudreau left no doubt.
“All he has to do is ask,” he said.
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