Mathieu Darche says Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher is "too good to be true"
As has just about every reporter who covered the Tampa Bay Lightning's signing of Guy Boucher as its new head coach, I spoke to Mathieu Darche to get some insight. Darche, who played for the Lightning in 2007-08, and played for Boucher last season for AHL Hamilton, said Boucher is detailed, smart and driven. He also said that more than X's and O's, it is Boucher's ability to handle people that is his greatest quality.
"It's hard to explain," Darche said. "I know he sounds too good to be true when you hear me talk about him, but that's the way he is."
First, some background. Darche, 33, has known Boucher for 20 years, since Boucher went to school in Montreal with Darche's older sister Isabelle. It was at Montreal's McGill University that Darche and Boucher earned each other's respect. Darche, a left wing, had just one assist in 15 games for McGill in 1996-97. Boucher, an assistant, made Darche a special project. The next season, Darche had 21 goals, 34 points in 26 games.
"Guy worked with me every single day after practice, working on shooting and skating" Darche said.
But it was last season, as Hamilton was on its way to team records of 52 victories and 115 points, that Darche said he witnessed the most important aspect of how Boucher works.
"Aside from all the X's and O's, I think the greatest strength for guy is how he deals with the players, the psychology behind it," Darche said. "How he deals with the guys is unbelievable. He makes the fourth-line guys feel so valuable and involved. I've seen fourth-line guys playing three shifts a game, and they leave the game so happy. They make a good play and Guy will make a point to point it out, so you feel like you're contributing."
Darche said Boucher's door is always open, though it is the coach who many times will have the players in for conversations.
"He doesn't coach a team," Darche said. "He coaches individuals."
"It's a people business before it's a hockey business," said Boucher, who has a master's degree in sports psychology from the University of Montreal. "My approach is very personal, very individual. The team will come after that. I always say, if I have 24 guys, I need 24 ways to coach."
Asked to explain in greater detail, Boucher said, "You've got guys who answer better to task-oriented interventions. You have guys who answer better to emotional interventions and you have guys who answer better to images. Every person is different. If you approach them the same way, you're only going to get a third of the people in a room. My job is to get that other two-thirds also."
Darche said the best example was Boucher's handling of a game right before a five-day Christmas break. Darche said because players were coming off injuries and because the parent-club Canadiens returned several players, Hamilton's roster was so cluttered it was scratching four players a night .
Darche had three goals, including the winner, an assist and six shots in the 5-4 overtime victory over Rochester.
"And for that game, the players of the game were the four guys who were in the stands," Darche said. "They had an outstanding attitude all week. They were the first guys to cheer when you got off the ice. They got the player of the game just for their contributions for team spirit. It made guys feel good about themselves."
"People talk about systems," Boucher said. "But for me, it's all about coaching people."