Streaker

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

"It can't be one person's fault for losing," says Clarke. "Yet Brian would take responsibility for the whole team."

Boucher was giving up a horrendous 4.52 goals a game. The Flyers record continued to dip. In Boucher's mind, his rookie season was now an aberration. After a loss in mid-October, Ramsay sat him for two games. He thought a small vacation would give Boucher perspective.

It didn't. His first game back, at the end of October, Philadelphia beat the New York Rangers, snapping a seven-game losing streak. It was cause for celebration. But in the post-game interview, Boucher talked instead about the last goal he gave up.

Brian Boucher on the night the shutout streak began, December 31, 2003.
Photo Curtesy of the Phoenix Coyotes
Brian Boucher on the night the shutout streak began, December 31, 2003.
Boucher makes one of his 21 saves against the Montreal 
Canadiens March 5.  The Coyotes would lose, however, 
4-3.
Emily Piraino
Boucher makes one of his 21 saves against the Montreal Canadiens March 5. The Coyotes would lose, however, 4-3.

The following day, in practice, the Flyers swarmed the crease, in three-on-one and three-on-none drills. After about half a dozen pucks slipped by him, Boucher took his stick and smashed it on the cross bar, over and over again, huge chunks of wood flying everywhere. His teammates stared at Boucher, mouths open.

"Did you watch me in practice? I stunk. I was awful," Boucher told the Philadelphia Daily News afterward. "Ever get angry? Ever want to break something? I broke something."

Boucher admits that he's a perfectionist, who wanted, in that tense second season, to stop "everything."

When it didn't happen, Clarke says the goals and losses "ate away" at Boucher. Off the ice, Melissa did her best to calm her husband, Boucher says, but on it, there wasn't another goalie Boucher could relate to. Vanbiesbrouck was gone and Boucher's back-up, Roman Cechmanek, a native of Czechoslavakia, didn't speak English and hungered for minutes.

And as Boucher's losses piled up, Cechmanek got minutes. In mid-November, after replacing Boucher in a loss at Pittsburgh -- of all places -- Cechmanek was named the starter. By the end of the season, Cechmanek had won 35 times and played in the All-Star game.

Boucher? He finished the year with only eight wins.

He finished the following year, the 2001-02 season, much better, with 18 wins, but his confidence was still an issue with the Flyers brass. "We always felt he would eventually overcome it," Clarke says. "But the confidence he got after a good game couldn't replace the confidence he lost after a bad one."

In June, Clarke traded Boucher to the Phoenix Coyotes.

For Boucher, it was a clean start on a young team in a city that -- to be kind -- didn't know hockey as well as Philadelphians. Phoenix was Boucher's chance to regain his confidence. And he could learn from Benoit Allaire, one of the best goalie coaches around.

Before the 2002-03 season began, Allaire persuaded Boucher to try the "hybrid," a different style of goaltending that basically called for Boucher to drop to his knees more often to make a save. This stood in stark contrast from Boucher's standup approach he'd used since childhood.

Still, Boucher was willing to try. After all, the previous year Allaire had turned Sean Burke, Phoenix's number one goalie, from an average net-minder into a Vezina trophy finalist, all while using the hybrid.

In late October, while Boucher was still perfecting his technique in practice, Burke went down with an injury. He started 28 of the next 30 games.

He struggled.

One night, Emile "Cat" Francis, the father of Coyotes head coach Bob Francis, told Boucher to return to what had brought him to the NHL. Boucher agreed and the next game and every game thereafter that season, he was a standup goalie.

But it wasn't his style that caused his poor play.

Boucher had a bad year, going 15-20-8, giving up 3.02 goals a game.

In the fall of 2003, Phoenix replaced Boucher at back-up with goalie Zac Bierk, an up-and-comer from the minors. Mike Barnett, the Coyotes general manager, says he thought Boucher's $2 million a year contract was too much. On October 3, he exposed Boucher in the waivers draft, one week before the season started.

Any team in the NHL could take Boucher if it picked up his salary.

No team wanted him.


Three years after he allowed the fewest goals of any goalie in the NHL, Brian Boucher wasn't even practicing with a team. Sure, the Coyotes had kept Boucher around, after Barnett tried to dump him. But they had no use for him. He was their third-string goalie. He worked with Benoit Allaire before practice and was gone by the time his teammates arrived. He watched games from the press box.

He was done. Boucher remembers it as the lowest point in his career.

"Some days were better than others," he says. "At first, you're a little down on yourself, you start to believe what people are saying about you or what they perceive of you. At some point you've got to quit feeling sorry for yourself and snap out of it. And have a -- have like a 'screw you' mentality, if you know what I mean.

"And, you know, that's what I took. I took it as me versus everybody. I just told myself to go out there and compete. You know I was just hoping for another opportunity and that's all I can ask for."

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