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Bruce Boudreau and Inches

AP Photo.

The Capitals were 6-14-1 when Bruce Boudreau was hired as their interim coach. They had the worst record in the NHL, and were off to their worst start in 26 years. Here's another way to put it:

We're in hell right now, gentlemen. Believe me. And we can stay here and get the [bleep] kicked out of us, or
we can fight our way back into the light, we can climb out of hell, one inch at a time.

Since that dark day, Washington is 7-4-2. They might not be the '84 Oilers just yet, but at least the franchise is now located somewhat north of hell. Boudreau, it stands to reason, must have deployed some sort of motivational wizardry, some magic set of words, some sloganeering that snapped this team out of its funk. Where does he get his inspiration?

"Movies, quite frankly," he told me.

Yup, the Caps' new boss is a movie fanatic who prefers action and adventure flicks, from crime tales to mobster dramas to historical capers. When he watches movies now, he keeps track of the motivational bits for possible use in the locker room. This was one of his standby tricks in Hershey: video montages with inspirational movie speeches spliced in between clips of team highlights.

" 'Gladiator,' 'Remember the Titans,' 'Varsity Blues,' " Brooks Laich told me.

"What's that one with Brad Pitt, where he's Achilles back in the Roman times?" David Steckel said, before a teammate helped out with "Troy."

"Whether it's 'Rudy,' 'Friday Night Lights' has a good one, 'We Are Marshall' has a good one," Boudreau said. "I'll watch movies and I'll say, 'That'll fit.' "

Of course, it's one thing to pull out that gimmick on a bunch of minor league kids hoping to break into the big-time. It's another thing to subject the best hockey players in the world to Hollywood-flavored motivation. Which is why, when Boudreau made it to the bigs, he wasn't sure whether his big-screen love should accompany him downtown. He asked a few assistant coaches and some of his players what they thought.

"And I said, 'Ah, the hell with it,' " Boudreau recalled. " 'I'm only here three games, I'm gonna do it.' "

So a few weeks back, after two consecutive losses, before a road game with Carolina, Boudreau's movies made their first appearance in an NHL locker room. This time it was Al Pacino in "Any Given Sunday," with his famous "Inches" speech, a speech Boudreau had shown to his Hershey teams three years in a row, a speech that can be viewed below.

The inches we need are everywhere around us. They're in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team, we fight for that inch. On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone else around us, to pieces for that inch. We CLAW with our fingernails for that inch. Because we know, when we add up all those inches, that's going to make the [bleeping] difference between WINNING and LOSING, between LIVING and DYING. [/bedlam]

"He talks about inches all the time," Mike Green said.

"I mean, it's kind of corny but it gets the point across," Steckel said.

"You know what, it IS corny," Boudreau said.

But who cares? It's not like the other way was working very well. Of course, the Caps lost that game, but "we played very good and we should have won," said the coach, whose club won four of its next five after movie night. "And [players] said they loved it. I'm sure when it's needed and when it's appropriate we'll do something else again."

And this isn't meant to suggest that Boudreau's inspirational techniques come solely from Pacino and Brad Pitt. He has his own homespun speeches as well.

"I don't know, it just comes out," he said. "I remember my first coaching [job], I just started saying stuff and speaking from the heart. I think if you speak from the heart a lot of things happen. I don't manufacture anything....Sometimes I get going and I say some of the stupidest things in the world. I know I've said, 'C'mon, you've got to take the bull by the hands.' And then people look at me and you lose the whole thing. I just forget what I'm talking about. I'll be ranting and then I'll say, 'Where was I?' "

But this strikes me as Joe Gibbs-style self-deprecation. I mean, look at the numbers. The numbers don't lie. This is now a winning team. The Boudreau stylebook might not include "fought their guts out" and "extremely hard-fought," but whatever's in that thing is working.

"I don't know, he says lots of things," Mike Green told me. "Some of them I don't understand, but he promotes 'em well, so they must mean something good."

By Dan Steinberg  |  December 18, 2007; 5:37 PM ET
Categories:  Caps  
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Next: LaRon Landry's Suicide Mission



An article on the Caps?!?! No way.....

Heheh, good to see Bruce hasn't lost all of his old AHL ways.

Posted by: EricS | December 18, 2007 10:51 PM | Report abuse

The Caps won four of their next five already? Dan, do you have ESP?

Posted by: Anonymous | December 19, 2007 6:24 AM | Report abuse

Good to seem some news about the Caps here.

Looking forward to seeing some more.

Go Caps

Posted by: chanuck | December 19, 2007 8:39 AM | Report abuse

bruce seems like quite a character, i'm glad he's around to make the caps a more interesting team to cover...oh yeah, the wins are nice too.

Posted by: brown | December 19, 2007 9:10 AM | Report abuse

If Bruce starts blogging he might in fact be able to replace the void left in this town by Bobby Boswell. But those are some big cleats to fill.

Posted by: Chris | December 19, 2007 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the article. I definately think Bruce was the shot in the arm this team needed. He brings an offensive, no quit system and if the movies work, great!

He does seem like quite the character.

Posted by: bonehed | December 19, 2007 10:26 AM | Report abuse

I love this guy more and more every day.

Posted by: HolyOlie | December 19, 2007 10:32 AM | Report abuse

This wears off quicker than it starts. He doesn't keep winning, people will realize he doesn't take a shift and he'll be run out on a rail too!

Posted by: caphcky | December 19, 2007 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Coach BB has really turned this team around. Cant believe we're now only 5 points out of the 8th spot after the start we had.

Posted by: captnclark | December 19, 2007 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Great article, thanks for the Caps coverage. Bruce seems like a straightforward, old school kind of guy. He seems like the type of coach who if the Caps are playing horribly will rip them a new one in the intermission and actually motivate them to play better in the next period. Even when they are playing well, he seems like he will say the things to keep them in the game and not letting up.

Posted by: Brian | December 19, 2007 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Really nice to see some Caps coverage. Keep it up Dan!

Oh, and Boudreau seems like such a great guy. Great story.

Posted by: HD | December 19, 2007 12:16 PM | Report abuse

That's a pretty good film given what it is. Good score, too.

Go Caps!

Posted by: false_cause | December 19, 2007 7:31 PM | Report abuse

Bruce has done a great job so far. This team has the talent to make the playoffs. I just hope they didn't wait 2 weeks too long to can Hanlon

Posted by: Sombrero guy | December 19, 2007 8:11 PM | Report abuse

Great read. Dan comes through not only with Redskin stuff, but with Caps stuff as well. Keep up the good work!

Posted by: Randy Hawkins | December 20, 2007 4:56 AM | Report abuse

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