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Examining the Bruce Boudreau effect in Vancouver

ColumnExamining the Bruce Boudreau effect in Vancouver

“We need more people like Bruce Boudreau in the world,” Canucks fans share why former head coach was so beloved during his time with the organization.

Story by Ally Penders and Michael Stamou

Sometimes a story becomes so big that it becomes impossible to remain a “local” story. The saga involving Bruce Boudreau and the Vancouver Canucks is a prime example of a news story that connected with people on many different levels from coast to coast.

While this story unfolded in and around a hockey rink 4,276 kilometres away, this story was never about hockey or a coach losing their job; it was about humanity, and the best and worst it has to offer.

For weeks and months, we heard about the on and off-ice difficulties of the Vancouver Canucks, we heard about a front office who didn’t want their coach, and players who may or may not have tuned out their coach but we also heard about a community of passionate, dedicated hockey fans who became enamoured with the man known as “Gabby.”

Most people can agree that the situation was painstakingly harsh and, several times over the last few months, difficult to watch but as human beings, you couldn’t help but marvel at Boudreau’s grace under fire. He was the epitome of professionalism and respect.

While the Canucks front office and management took every bit of “deserved heat” from the local fan base and people across Canada, Boudreau put his head down and did his job with class, dignity, and most importantly, a sense of humour.

This saga continued to drag on but as it finally came to a merciful end, we heard more and more about the Canucks fans and their respect and admiration for their former coach. We all knew that Boudreau was loved, from the signs throughout Rogers Arena to the raucous chants of “Bruce, there it is” but we never knew why.

Hockey and non-hockey fans alike never got the opportunity to understand why Canucks fans were so enamoured with Boudreau so while this story isn’t local, the Brant Beacon wanted to take a closer look into the Bruce Boudreau effect and why a community of fans rallied around “Gabby.”

The Vancouver Canucks have been one of the most publicly criticized sports organizations in the world over the past few weeks, with the main subject of discussion being the treatment of Boudreau, who was fired on Sunday, January 22.

Hockey fans across the world shared their displeasure with management and ownership, while some argued that the process gave Boudreau a unique opportunity to say goodbye to the job and the fan base.

One thing fans in Vancouver can agree on is that they all share the same feelings towards Boudreau, a whole lot of love. 

Justin Lai, 35, who has been a Canucks fan for as long as he can remember, and recalls watching the 1994 finals, said his love for coach Boudreau stemmed from his fun and positive demeanour. 

“I think what made Bruce so loved is his natural ability to endear himself to a fanbase. He was a shining beacon of personality, positivity and hope for a fanbase devoid of that before he came in because of the organizational dysfunction of lost seasons on and off the ice with past and current leadership groups.The situation in which Bruce handled his time here from Day 1 to the last day was full of grace and true class despite challenging and stressful moments that would have broken anyone else. He never strayed from being his genuine self when it could have been easy for him to do so considering the position he was put in,” said Lai. “His mental resilience showed the true spirit of a Canuck and he always was the epitome of class and joy no matter how dark the challenge was. I personally loved how he always saw the joy in things and his outlook on life always inspired many to be people oriented and to care for others in a loving way more than their status or job title first. He showed Canucks fans that although he was hired to be the coach of the team we all love he was always and above all a friend to all first that he came across. Bruce will be missed but as most fans sent him off with the send-off he deserved and the team sent him off with hugs, love and the championship belt; he also sent the Canucks fan base off with inspiration and a reminder to be more like him in our own lives as well.”

19-year-old Sean Chesman has been a Canucks fan since he was six and said that Boudreau gave fans in Vancouver a refresh when they needed it most.

“When he arrived, he was bright, bubbly, and fun, which are all things that the organization and market were in desperate need for. It had been so bleak for so long that having a presence like him in the organization made it super easy for the fans to root for him. He also won a lot in his first year here, so that helps as to why the fans love him,” he explained. “I liked him for all of those reasons, but I respect him even more for how he handled everything this season. It can’t be easy for anyone to know that your fate is sealed, but he was a professional about it and handled it with the utmost class. We need more people like Bruce Boudreau in the world.”

While younger Canucks fan explained their love and admiration for Boudreau, long-time Vancouver fans also shared their thoughts into what made Boudreau a figure to rally around.

Stephen Bridger, 37, a Canucks fan since the 1992-93 season when Pavel Bure broke into the league, said that Boudreau’s personality isn’t what fans typically see in a professional sports coach, which was something fans could relate to and made losing him that much harder.

“I think Bruce is a unique personality in the hyper masculine and macho hockey world. There is something very familiar about Bruce that makes him relatable and accessible. He’s like your favourite uncle or cheerful grandad. We see how honest and real he is with the media whether he’s cracking jokes or is feeling down after a bad stretch of games. We saw how vulnerable he was in shedding tears during his final days as the Canucks coach. That puts people around him in a safe place. I think that’s why the players wanted to perform well for him even if there was a lack of structure and execution, in part to do with his coaching style,” said Bridger. “Bruce is somebody that players, staff, fans and media want to rally around and get behind. He is a real down to earth guy with real human emotions with no tough guy façade that other public sports figures wear. It’s refreshing and he will be missed in Vancouver. There hasn’t been much to cheer for over the last decade.”

Sixty-year-old Bill Jaffe, who has been a Canucks season ticket holder since 2003 summed it up best, comparing Boudreau to a relative that everyone loves to talk to at a family gathering.

“Bruce was likeable as he came across like everyone’s uncle with a stain on his sweatshirt but knowledge beyond his years. He reminds me of the guy that shows up at Christmas dinner and tells great stories and looks like he really loved all of them. I liked the man a lot. I believe his coaching style is no longer viable in the league and he might have aged out of the process. The fan base also decided to choose him over owner and management as he was not part of their party.  (Travis) Green was picked by the general manager but Bruce Boudreau was not, so he was an automatic underdog, and everyone loves an underdog,” said Jaffe.

Kevin Byrne, 28, moved to Vancouver from Ireland in 2018 and joined the Canucks fanbase. His love for Boudreau came from his overall love for the game of hockey.

“At first, I think Bruce was loved for bringing an overdue (albeit short) sense of hope and excitement to the market with the run they went on to close out last season. But above all else, he was loved for his kindness, compassion and pure love for the game of hockey. Bruce is a wonderful human being, first and foremost. And Vancouver, being the progressive and passionate hockey market it is, adored that about him. His ability to remain positive, despite the adversity both he and the team was enduring, was astonishing. He had his moments, like us all, but right to the end he was the same happy-go-lucky guy we’d grown to love, even cracking jokes through tears in his final presser. The last couple of weeks in Canucks-land have been unprecedented and bizarre, but the sight of Bruce breaking down before leaving the bench on Saturday night will stick with me forever. It was one of, if not the most beautifully emotional and touching moments I’ve ever experienced as a sports fan, and Bruce deserved every last bit of it. His relentless positivity and devotion made him impossible not to love. For me personally, these emotional moments cemented my love and respect for him. In a sport that is wholly dominated by masculinity and ‘toughness,’ true emotion is hard to come by. Bruce has moved me to tears multiple times over the past few days, and that’s not something I can say for many people in the sports world over my lifetime. I’m eternally grateful for that, for him, and for all the wonderful memories he gave us Canucks fans over the past year or so. Thank you, Bruce.”

Regardless of the journey Boudreau and Canucks fans went on, or ultimately the end result, there is no question that “Gabby” has left his mark on the lower mainland for years and generations to come.

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