TAMPA — Former Lightning coach Guy Boucher said Thursday's return to Tampa was special. It brought back great memories and put a smile on his face.
But it wasn't Boucher's first Amalie Arena visit since getting fired by Tampa Bay in March 2013. Now that one was strange.
Boucher, 45, now the Senators' coach, recalled attending a Lightning playoff game against the Red Wings in April 2015. In town to sell his house, Boucher said, he sat in the stands.
"I didn't come down," Boucher said, smiling. "I just hid."
Boucher marveled at the amazing atmosphere in and around the building. He watched young stars such as Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, who had been developing in the AHL while Boucher was the Lightning's coach. Boucher, who led the Lightning to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final against the Bruins in 2011, saw Tampa Bay finally reach the Stanley Cup final in 2015.
And Boucher wished he could have been part of it.
Boucher believes the surprising 2011 playoff run gave hope back to the fans. But maybe it was false hope. The aging Lightning shed many veterans the next two years, waiting for its touted prospects to blossom.
"We couldn't say we were rebuilding, but that's what was happening," Boucher said. "The young guys weren't ready yet. We knew that. It was going to be one or two more years before those Johnsons and Palats (were ready). You could see them coming. … That probably was the toughest, looking back, knowing where this organization was going and to eventually find out you won't be there."
Boucher isn't bitter. He's grateful to general manager Steve Yzerman for giving him his first NHL head coaching job. There were several reasons Boucher was fired, questions whether his demanding, rigid act wore on players and management. Having a rising star coach in Jon Cooper in the AHL likely made the move easier for Yzerman.
But when Boucher was asked if he wishes he would have done some things differently, he said he didn't have a lot of regrets. He said coaches have to constantly evolve and adapt but some circumstances were out of his control.
Boucher's Lightning followed the '11 run by missing the playoffs in 2011-12, then got off to a 13-18-1 start in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season before Cooper replaced him.
"After the first year, there were seven new guys. Some guys were traded. That was tough," Boucher said. "Our goaltender, Dwayne Roloson, was 43 years old. That was difficult to handle. I've never lived that, and I'll probably never live it again. Trading a lot of guys at trade deadline, I'd never lived that, either. Looking back, there are things you want to change, but there are a lot of things you don't want to change. There's nothing to change, really. Circumstances happen."
Boucher said dealing with that has helped him in his first season in Ottawa, which has played most of the season without starting goalie Craig Anderson, who returned last week after taking time off to be with his wife while she is being treated for throat cancer. But as Boucher prepares for a potential playoff run, he said he'll never forget his first in 2011 with Tampa Bay.
"It was very special," he said. "First of all, we weren't supposed to do it. No one thought we could do it. We ended up playing Pittsburgh (in the first round), so no one gave us a chance. We came back from 3-1 (down in the series), so there was a lot of character there that was displayed there.
"After that, we met the best team in the league, Washington, so everybody thought we'd get crushed. And we beat them in four. That was special. Then we ended up playing Boston. Six minutes left in Game 7 and it was still scoreless.
"By that time, we had injuries and guys were starting to wear down. But I still remember the push and everything guys were able to give us. It was real special. I think at that moment we gave hope back to the organization and the fans. That's what I remember — the hope."