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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Caputo

Ben Boudreau relishing the opportunity to be home in Niagara

Brandon Caputo

Credit: Vivid Eye Photography


Ben Boudreau has spent the better part of two decades playing and coaching hockey in the United States, including a year overseas in France, but the St. Catharines, Ontario native is hard-pressed to find the right words for what it means to be back home coaching in front of friends and family this season with the Ontario Hockey League's (OHL's) Niagara IceDogs.


"It's been so much more, I can't really put it into words. My family is here, hearing the Canadian anthem played for the first time in nine years. It's unique, some people in my area of business don't get to go home and coach in this environment. Hopefully I can turn this into as long of a tenure as possible. It's moments like every time you have a home game you try to make the most of it" said Boudreau.


Former professional hockey player Carl Greco, a fellow Niagara native, speaks glowingly to this day about the opportunity Boudreau gave him during his stint in Fort Wayne with the Komets during his playing days.


"Ben Boudreau is the ultimate players coach. He gave me the opportunity to come into training camp with Fort Wayne and he ran an incredible program there. His attention to detail and passion was something I really noticed there and it was not a surprise at all that he was able to win a championship during his time there" said Greco, who proudly calls Niagara Falls, Ontario his home.


In closing, Greco made it a point to say "Ben was nothing but professional to me during my short time there in Fort Wayne and I cannot thank him enough for giving me a chance. Niagara is extremely lucky to have him coaching the IceDogs."



TRANSITIONING FROM COACHING PRO HOCKEY TO JUNIOR HOCKEY

Credit: Josh Gales/ECHL.com


After a successful tenure with the Fort Wayne Komets in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) where he began as an Assistant Coach (2017-19), before becoming Head Coach (2019-23), and the Director of Player Personnel (2022-23), including the 2020-21 Kelly Cup Championship during that time; Boudreau is welcoming the new challenge of being back coaching a younger age group in junior hockey.


"I came into the OHL open minded because its a different animal than pro hockey. You are dealing with kids, not men and with NHL drafted players, but the game is always played the same way. It's been open arms getting adapted into a new environment and everyone has been welcoming in this transition for me" said Boudreau.


Assistant Coach Brandon Shaw, who one of Ben's current colleagues with the Niagara IceDogs, believes that Boudreau has brought an added element that they've welcomed with open arms to their coaching room.


"It's great we all have our strength. Ben has an offensive mind, so we all compliment each other in this coaches room. Our team never gives up, Ben carries weight along with the rest of the coaching staff in helping out and doing our jobs to the best that we possibly can for these players. The compliment Ben has brought us with the offensive game has made a big impact for the rest of us and our uniquely individual strengths" said Shaw.



GOALS OF BRINGING PRIDE BACK TO THE ICEDOGS LOGO

Credit: Terry Wilson/OHL Images


Growing up locally in St. Catharines, Boudreau knows the important role that hockey and more specifically the IceDogs play in the community as the Niagara Region's team. "Every time I'm out in the community people ask me about the IceDogs and it's important to have a winning culture. We've got to do it together and the passion of wanting to have an impact and turn the tide for the better here. It is the community's team, which is what makes it even more special" Boudreau emphasized.


Brandon Shaw went on to mention that the team's positive culture change has been a testament to the hard work of the coaching staff, including Boudreau, on how they approach everything from the interactions with players to the way they practice with tempo.


"I feel that teams are an extension of the coaching staff within it, we're all apart of it here in Niagara. We roll four forward lines and six defenseman so everyone has a fingerprint on it including Ben's influence on the offensive side of things. Our practices have been much better this season with everyone on the same page, while being on the cusp of even better results" said Shaw who is in his second season as an IceDogs Assistant Coach.



MAINTAINING A POSITIVE ATTITUDE

Credit: Josh Kim Photo


Having a positive mindset for players to feel safe and motivated to come into the rink on a daily basis is at the upmost importance to Boudreau and the whole coaching staff's message when it comes to helping these young men become better as hockey players, as well as a full team who truly cares for one another.


"I think it's important to be positive because when things aren't going well, no one wants to go to the rink so having that optimism and trying to find those building blocks to be fun every single day. I feel that I bring a lot of that energy with the enthusiasm. Team success is going to translate to individual success, you don't just want to say its the powerplay or the penalty kill, its the whole group pulling in the same direction that's going to lead us to success" said Boudreau.


IceDogs second year player Kevin He says that Boudreau's energy is infectious with the group inside that locker room. "Coach Ben is a really high energy guy, all the boys love him. He's brought a lot of character and enthusiasm in what he wants and what he expects from all of us as individual players and as a full team unit" said He, the rookie standout from last season who tied Akil Thomas' franchise goal record as a 16-year old.



LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON

Credit: Bill Potrecz/bpsportsniagara.com


Some may find it news, while others find it common knowledge that Ben is the son of longtime National Hockey League (NHL) bench boss Bruce Boudreau, who is one of the most recognizable and beloved coaching figures in the game today.


September 6th, 2023 was a proud day for the Boudreau family as Bruce joined his son Ben as a part of the IceDogs organization in a Senior Advisor role. Ben spoke to having his father back home in the Niagara Region at an official capacity, having played for the St. Catharines Saints in the American Hockey League from 1982-1984.


"It's great, my last six years in Fort Wayne were interesting because he was a former coach and player there so we've both taken a similar path. We had opportunities with him in the building for the Komets at an unofficial capacity, but now that it's official we are talking more than ever and it's helped bring us closer as a father-son relationship. We both have that same pride of wanting to represent our hometown very well and we both consider this place home, even though we've both lived far apart from here" Boudreau said passionately.


Ben, the younger Boudreau, finished by speaking about the importance of having his father back in the fold and around him on a daily basis at this point in his professional and personal life. "Having the dynamic of talking to your father everyday, due to the fact that the game of hockey has always drawn us together, while now getting to discuss the Niagara IceDogs everyday is nothing short of a dream come true right now" said Boudreau. "However long it lasts, I'm trying to really embrace this opportunity and truly enjoy it before time passes all of us by."


The Niagara IceDogs currently sit just one point out of a playoff spot in the OHL's Eastern Conference standings, a place they have not been to since the 2018-2019 season. Boudreau and the rest of the coaching staff in a short period of time have helped transform the culture and belief in this team as they continue to build back into a playoff contending team, with aspirations of packing the Meridian Centre for meaningful games from April-June as early as this season.

 

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