Every so often a pro hockey player comes along who’s so brutally honest in his comments, it almost makes you do a double-take. Those are the kind of guys, who, upon retirement, make the best analysts.
Of course there are some nerves, this is my first year of doing inside the glass
You see/hear it in these Stanley Cup playoffs with someone like NBC’s Mike Milbury – a no-holds-barred observer with remarks that can peel the paint off a locker room wall.
And you’re witnessing some of that same element with newcomer Brian Boucher, the four-time ex-Flyer goaltender, who has shot to the top of the NBC sports ladder with straight-forward insights, both in a “behind-the-glass″ role as well as in the studio.
Currently, Boucher is working the Western Conference finals with play-by-play man Kenny Albert and booth analyst Joe Micheletti.
The three work so seamlessly in their broadcasts, one would think they’ve been together for a few years, not a few months.
Boucher, who got his start in this side of the business just a few short years ago up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on Lehigh Valley Phantoms broadcasts, says he still has a lot to learn.
But he’s making up ground in a hurry, using the old Howard Cosell style of “telling it like it is.″ No need to sugarcoat anything. That’s something that the 2016 hockey fan doesn’t need … or want.
He might not be as nervous as he was for the start of Game 7 in the 2000 Eastern Conference finals against the New Jersey Devils (as a Flyers rookie, no less), but there are still some butterflies when the camera’s red light first goes on.
“Of course there are some nerves, this is my first year of doing inside the glass,″ he said in a telephone conversation. “There’s so much for me to learn, being in that position and being new at it. The one thing I’ve come to realize is that no night is flawless. You just have to try and live with that. It’s like when you were playing, you try to minimize the mistakes. It’s hard to have a perfect night.
In Game 3 on Thursday night, there was a lighter moment as the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks squared off at HP Pavilion. Boucher was watching Micheletti’s telestration of a play on his monitor when Sharks defenseman Brent Burns peered over his shoulder to peek in.
Boucher made light of it on the air and everyone had a good chuckle. That’s the kind of unplanned, almost avante-guard stuff that fans enjoy.
“I’m trying to have fun,″ Boucher said with a chuckle. “If I can show some of my personality on the air when the time is right, that’s the goal. After all, we’re covering hockey, we’re not solving world problems. If there is a light moment and I can show my personality, I definitely want to try to do that. But the timing has to be right. I’m trying to have fun but don’t want to be disrespectful to the game.″
Boucher’s objectivity comes through from the drop of the first puck. He played for a number of NHL teams, including Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Philadelphia, Phoenix and San Jose, but would never let it be known which teams he might be secretly pulling for.
“I want to try to respect the players, they’re the show right now,″ he said. “I just try to give them their due, try to call it as best I see it and be fair right down the middle.″
As a former goalie, Boucher brings a different perspective to his ice-level, inside-the-glass position. He never scored 50 goals, but he can tell you how to stop someone from doing so – in other words, the defensive side of the puck.
Boucher was a first-round draft pick (22nd overall) of the Flyers in 1995. He made the team as a rookie in 1999 and, as the season progressed, pushed veteran John Vanbiesbrouck to the curb (recording a league-leading 1.91 goals-against average in the process).
He came back briefly to play for the Phantoms in 2007, then returned again in 2009 and, after starter Ray Emery got hurt, became part of a platoon with Michael Leighton as the Flyers made it all the way to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals before losing to the Blackhawks.
Fans still remember that memorable shootout win in the final game of that season when Boucher bested the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist to get the Flyers into the playoffs and the start of that incredible run.
Along the way of his career, Boucher set a still-standing NHL record for consecutive shutout minutes (332 minutes, 1 second) while playing for the Coyotes. He stuck around long enough to play in 328 NHL games with a career 2.71 goals-against average.
One could make a case that he’s the third-most accomplished goalie in Flyers’ history behind only Bernie Parent and Ron Hextall.
Boucher, 39, has filled in on occasion for Milbury and/or ex-Flyer Keith Jones on the NBC Sports Network studio show, but said he prefers to be live at games, especially in the playoffs. There’s just that electric atmosphere that an ex-player can appreciate.
Boucher still lives in the area (with wife Melissa; son Tyler 13; daughter Brianna 11) and credits the Flyers organization for helping him get his foot in the door for television. When he’s not doing national games, he’s breaking down performances in Philly, working a rotation that includes Bill Clement and Al Morganti.
“While I played, people said I should give this a try,″ Boucher said. “After a while, you think: ‘Maybe they’re on to something.’ Or maybe they were just telling me I should quit hockey. That I was so bad I should get into something else.″
Hockey fans are the winners for his decision to give a career behind the microphone a try.
“No doubt I wanted to be around the game when I retired,″ he said. “Everything has happened so fast. This is a dream come true. I couldn’t ask for a better job after playing the game.″
Wayne Fish: 215-949-4210; Twitter: @waynefish1