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

Says David Belisle, "My father is usually toughest on the superstars."

And after his junior year, that's what Brian Boucher was. That summer, he joined Berard on the U.S. Select 17 team competing in La Copa, Mexico. The team took home the silver medal.

In the fall, Boucher left Mount for a Canadian academy, the Wexford Raiders of the Metropolitan Toronto Hockey League. Playing for Wexford, Boucher reasoned, increased his chances of landing a college scholarship.

This season has tested Boucher's confidence. He says he's learned to let the losses go.
Emily Piraino
This season has tested Boucher's confidence. He says he's learned to let the losses go.

Wexford was a mistake. Boucher wasn't getting minutes. So one weekend he and his father visited Spokane, Washington and the Major Junior Hockey team there, the Tri-City Americans. "The thing was I loved it so much I never came back to Wexford," Boucher says. He lost his college eligibility in the process, but since the NHL was still the goal, Boucher was willing to try another path.

He won 17 games that year in Spokane. The NHL was certainly impressed. In 1995, its scouting bureau ranked Boucher one of the three best amateur goalies in North America.

The next step: the NHL draft in Edmonton, that summer.

Berard had had a stellar year in the Ontario Hockey League. He was a lock for the number-one pick. The speculation was that Boucher would be drafted in the second round. The Rhode Island media, looking for perspective, asked Boucher the day before the draft what he thought of his best friend. Boucher rattled on about how much he'd learned from Berard -- how he's a nice guy, keeps a level head.

And then Boucher said something telling. "He's extremely gifted. It's what makes him special," Boucher told the Providence Journal Bulletin. "I don't know if I have that in me."

The next day, Berard was picked first, going to the Ottawa Senators. No surprise there. Boucher celebrated his friend's achievement in the stands alongside the Berard family. When order was restored, the Bouchers and Berards settled in, waiting for the second round.

But then Bob Clarke, the general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, stepped to the podium. He had a first round pick to make, and he was looking for a goalie. He'd spent many days discussing with his scouts who'd be the best selection. They all said Brian Boucher.

After his name was announced, many photos were taken of Boucher. In one of them, the one that now hangs in Box Seats, the tavern on River Street in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Boucher stands next to his best friend, Bryan Berard, with stooped shoulders, a Flyers cap on his head and a slightly stunned look on his face.

He wasn't stunned for long.

"I felt like I belonged," he says now, of his next two seasons in Spokane. Indeed, there was levity to the way Boucher goal-tended. "He was just so calm and poised," says Scott Bonner, a former scout with the Tri-City Americans. "He was never shocked. He just went with the groove."

Throughout Boucher's career, people have commented on the moments of Zen he has. Not surprisingly, they coincide with periods of great play.

In 1996, Boucher won 33 games for the Americans. In 1997, he was named Goalie of the Year. "There was definitely nothing I felt I couldn't handle," he says. That summer, he led the U.S Junior team to the silver medal at the World Championships.

The Flyers had seen enough. By the fall of 1997, Boucher was playing for the Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League, one small step from the NHL.

Boucher had trouble making that step.

He pushed too hard. Put too much pressure on himself. He wanted to make it to the NHL now, yesterday. When that didn't happen, Boucher says, he lost confidence.

He spent the year as the back-up goalie, watching from the bench as starter Neal Little and the Phantoms won the Calder Cup, the league championship.

The following year, telling himself to think as he had in Tri-City, Boucher won the Phantoms starting job. Then he tore cartilage in his right knee. And then his left. As Boucher rehabbed, back-up goalie Jean-Marc Pelletier proved himself as a starter.

By the spring of '99, after he'd returned from the surgeries, Boucher heard the rumors of a possible trade. The day of the deadline, he couldn't get the local radio station in his condo, so he sat in his pickup and listened for hours. But the news of a trade never came.

It was Boucher's second chance. And just as he had after his sophomore year of high school, Boucher bounced back, finishing the season with 20 wins and a 0.911 save percentage. He won nine playoff games that year. After the season, Boucher got a call from the Flyers goalie coach, Rejean Lemelin.

"Be ready for camp," Lemelin said.

Boucher was 22.

Philadelphia is a tough place to be an NHL player. First, there is Bob Clarke, the Flyers general manager. He once called former Flyer Eric Lindros a "baby" for nursing his injuries at a time when Lindros was the greatest -- and toughest -- player in the league.

Then, there's the Philadelphia press corps. When Boucher is asked why he doesn't read the Arizona papers, he says, with a smirk, "Philly."

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