The rise and fall -- and rise and fall -- of Phoenix Coyotes record-breaking goalie

When he has confidence, there may be no one better. When he doesn't, there are few worse.

It's tough to be a goalie, says Bob Clarke, the Flyers general manager who drafted and, eventually, traded Boucher. But with confidence in himself and a good defense in front of him, Boucher could be the best in the league.

"I just hope he's not as hard on himself as he once was," Clarke says.

Though Boucher stopped this one, he didn't sotp them all January 11, as the Coyotes and Atlanta Thrashers tied 1-1, ending Boucher's shutout streak. Left: Boucher and his best friend, Byran Berard, on the day they were drafted in 1995.
courtesy of Phoenix Coyotes and Chris Gorman
Though Boucher stopped this one, he didn't sotp them all January 11, as the Coyotes and Atlanta Thrashers tied 1-1, ending Boucher's shutout streak. Left: Boucher and his best friend, Byran Berard, on the day they were drafted in 1995.
Boucher takes a break from practice in early March.
Emily Piraino
Boucher takes a break from practice in early March.

Boucher says he isn't, says he's learned to let losses go and not think about his past struggles. But a few days after he said this, when Bob Clarke's name is mentioned after practice -- a little over a month after the streak has ended, as Boucher's game has gone from perfect to exceptional to mediocre -- Boucher shakes his head, and cuts the conversation short. There's an uncharacteristic scowl on his face.

"Why did you talk to him?" he asks sharply. " I don't know if I want to hear what Bob Clarke has to say."

One hour south of Boston, in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, inside the Box Seats tavern on River Street, there is a photo hanging on the wall above table two. It's instructive, this photo. It shows Brian Boucher, the local boy from the middle-class family in this working-class French-Canadian town, on the day he was drafted in 1995. It shows Bryan Berard, Boucher's best friend since kindergarten, standing next to him. Berard lived five minutes from Boucher and as the two grew up, Berard over-shadowed each of Boucher's athletic accomplishments. Including this one, the day this photo was snapped and Boucher was drafted. Because, you see, Berard was drafted, too -- as the first-overall pick. Boucher went later that round.

No, there's no headline above the photo reading, "BERARD PICKED FIRST; BOUCHER ALSO SELECTED." But there might as well be. More than the history of their friendship, this photo shows the confidence of each hockey player.

Look at Berard. Shoulders back, chin up, eyes narrowed, lips pursed. He knew he'd be the first pick. And he knew it long before anyone else did.

Now, look at Boucher. Mouth slightly agape, shoulders hunched and leaning toward Berard's, eyes wide and searching. He looks slightly awkward in his Flyers jersey, unsure of something -- perhaps what the picture could expose.

There are many pictures of them together as kids. They were inseparable. "Brian was our other son," says Pam Berard, mother of Bryan and six other sons and daughters.

What drew one Brian to the other was the competitive drive they shared. They were both clearly born with it, though Boucher admits his was helped along by two older brothers who also wanted only to win. In every backyard game the two Brians played, in every class they took, they wanted nothing more than to beat one another.

Except in hockey. Boucher and Berard were teammates there, Boucher playing goalie because no one else would, Berard playing defense because no one else was better.

"We won a lot of championships," Berard says now, reached by phone. He, like his old friend, is reticent. Even Berard's mom laughingly points that out.

Both enrolled at the private high school in town, Mount Saint Charles Academy, otherwise known as the "Hockey Factory." The school, to date, has won 26 consecutive state titles. Six Mount Saint Charles alum currently play in the NHL.

None of those alum received more praise while at Mount than Bryan Berard. As a freshman, he started varsity. As a sophomore, he made All-State. Later that year, he was named the most valuable player in the Esso Cup in Quebec with the U.S. Select 16 team.

Boucher? Boucher played jayvee as a freshman, missed the cut with the U.S. Select team and split time between jayvee and varsity as a sophomore. There were times that year, as Boucher played jayvee, that he wondered if he had a future in the game. He was his toughest critic, says David Belisle, son of Bill and an assistant coach at Mount Saint Charles. (Bill wasn't available on the day New Times called, so David, who's worked with his dad for years and knows the history well, recounted it.)

Bill, though, believed in Boucher even then. "He knew he had a good talent in Brian Boucher," says David. Why, then, was Boucher demoted to jayvee? "My father will send goalies down to make them work hard or focus . . . or get them upset or mad enough to prove to coach that he shouldn't have sent them down there."

With Boucher, it worked. His junior year he won the starting job. The games were easy; Mount Saint Charles was so dominant, Boucher saw maybe 10 shots a contest. But the practices? Bill Belisle never let up there, Boucher says. Behind closed doors, Belisle yelled at Boucher until he'd perfected the form he uses today: a stand-up approach to goaltending that calls for athleticism and a keen sense of shooting angles. Boucher was expected, in those practices, to let no puck pass, even in two- or three-on-none drills.

"You'd learn to battle," Boucher says now. "[Bill] definitely pushed me."

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