TAMPA — The voice boomed, and the skating stopped.
The Lightning was minutes into a recent practice, and coach Guy Boucher had seen enough.
"Way too slow," he bellowed. "Get back there. Do it again. Wake the (bleep) up."
The outburst was notable, not because a coach yelled — join the club — but because it was the first time Boucher, Tampa Bay's first-year bench boss, really lost his cool.
"It's situational," Boucher said before Saturday night's preseason finale against the Panthers at the St. Pete Times Forum. "If you're always the same way, guys get used to it. Guys get in their comfort zone.
"I hate comfort zones."
Yet, in a sense, that is exactly what Boucher is creating for players of a franchise that has been out of the playoffs three straight years. Because in order for Boucher to lead, the players must trust him and his plan.
So whenever Boucher addresses the team, he tells them, "Ask me anything."
"And he's got an answer to any question," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "There's never a pause to think about it. Players can surprise coaches with their questions, but he's never surprised. He answers all of them."
Boucher, at 39 the NHL's youngest coach (and with a degree in sports psychology, by the way), would rather not talk about himself or his strategies. He actually winced when the conversation went that way.
But he allowed this:
"We're trying to transmit our vision. To get that vision working, you need structure. We worked hard on having that structure before the camp started, before we got the players, so now everybody sees that structure, everybody sees there's a vision."
It is manifested in little things such as the locker room being spotless at the end of the day — "We want to make sure we look like a first-class organization," Boucher said — and bigger things such as the players racing to surround the coach on the ice when he blows his whistle.
Boucher, who said he hates wasting time, even had the players practice it. Now, when the whistle blows, players leap over the boards and sprint to his side.
Practice drills, too, are at warp speed, because that is how Boucher wants the game played.
"There's no let up out there," center Nate Thompson said. "It's 100 percent, 110 percent all the time. You're never letting up in any drill, even a warmup drill."
Winning helps any transition, and Tampa Bay ended the preseason 4-1-1 after a 4-1 win over the Panthers on Saturday. But players said Boucher straddles well the line between being a teacher and a taskmaster.
"There's a leash, and it's a short one, but it's a very positive environment," Lecavalier said. "It's like something I've never seen."
Especially on the bench, center Steven Stamkos said:
"He's intense, but he's positive. When you don't do it right, he lets you know in a way that motivates you and makes you want to be out there on the next shift and prove you can do it right."
"The biggest motivation is instruction," Boucher said, "having enough things to say and things to do so the players get tools. That's all they ask for. And the guys are buying in."
Comfort zone or not.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]