Ed Moran | Boucher thankful for second stop in Philly

Posted: September 17, 2007

WHEN HE DEPARTED Philadelphia after being traded to Phoenix, Brian Boucher left behind a bump in his career and a firestorm of controversy he helped create.

To pin everything on Boucher that happened the day after the Flyers' 2002 playoffs ended in embarrassment is unfair.

He was not the only player who unloaded on coach Bill Barber, blaming him for the team's demise or criticizing the way he handled his team and his players.

Many others were just as vocal. But if I remember that day correctly, and I think I do, Boucher was the first and one of the more outspoken.

Barber was fired and Boucher, who was then 25, was traded; the two departures were directly related.

"I don't know if it was the reason," Boucher said last week. "But it certainly played at least half of the factor as to why I got traded. I think it made it easy to trade me."

When the dust settled, Barber was hired as director of player personnel in Tampa Bay and has done well there, helping the Lightning to a championship.

But Boucher kept stumbling.

It didn't work out for him in Phoenix and neither did a trade to Calgary. He signed with Chicago as a free agent the day before camp began last year, was waived and then picked up by the Columbus Blue Jackets before becoming an free agent in July.

He's had setbacks, injuries, surgeries, rejections and dejection. As summer moved further into the free-agent season, Boucher was going nowhere.

He is 30 now, the father of two young children, and he has more than just a career to look out for. So he called Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren and basically asked for a do-over.

Holmgren agreed and signed Boucher to a two-way contract, tagging the goalie who backstopped the Flyers to the seventh game of the 2000 Eastern Conference finals for a job in the AHL. There are not a lot of guys his age and experience who would have done that.

Just as there are not a lot of teams or GMs who would have welcomed him back into the fold. But who better than Holmgren and the Flyers - particularly after last season - to recognize the value in a new beginning.

And so, with the backdrop of a team on the mend, an athlete on the mend has found a home and a start right back where he was in 1997, when he was a rookie in the AHL. As the Flyers start a new season with their first preseason game tonight in Trenton against the New Jersey Devils, Boucher is a quiet presence in the locker room, sitting in a temporary stall and just hoping to get his game back together.

He looks a lot like someone who is not trying to stir things up but a guy who has avoided an earlier-than-scheduled search for Plan B.

"Last year I was able to get a tryout with Chicago the day before camp started," said Boucher, the Flyers' first-round draft choice in 1995.

"I missed the team meeting the first night because I flew in too late. The next day we started camp. It was stressful on me, stressful on my family and was something I was not willing to go through again.

"So I said I need to take a step back. If I'm going to play, I either need to go to Europe and commit and I'd be gone July 31st, or go back to the minors.''

And he is thankful, very thankful. He says so repeatedly. For their part, the Flyers have made a tremendous move in bringing him back and forgetting the past.

It's not like this is a team

unfamiliar with injury. Antero Niittymaki played with a torn hip labrum all last season. And the departed Robert Esche missed a bunch of games recovering from surgery.

Boucher may be rusty. But he's fit and he has proved he can play. There was the run to the conference finals in 2000 with the Flyers; and during his time in Phoenix, in January 2004, he set a modern-day NHL record for the longest shutout streak, going unscored upon for 332 minutes, or 5 1/2 games.

He's not thinking back to that now. He's acting happy and humble and thinking like a guy with a second chance.

It's good to have him back. Despite how it ended with the Flyers, Boucher was a talented and driven athlete as a rookie. He was easy to be around, easy to talk to and popular in the locker room. His failing was his inability to curtail his emotions. When he was off, he went off the deep end. It was not unusual to see him whacking away at a goal post with both hands on his stick during what he considered a bad practice.

When he was upset, he let everyone know. He got into it with Barber, and it didn't help him in his competition for the starting position with Roman Cechmanek.

"I'm really grateful and I really mean that from the bottom of my heart,'' he said. "I'm grateful that [Holmgren] has given me an opportunity and I feel like I belonged to somebody and I felt good about it.

"I know the situation here and I'm looking forward to the chance to get my game back together. Of course, I dream and I have hopes. This is certainly not the way I envisioned my career going but I want to park it and move on. It was been disappointing and I'm very grateful to come back to the place where I'm comfortable and where I started my career, and hopefully I can resurrect my career."

Team Snider triumphs

Team Snider, led by the Flyers' top line of Simon Gagne, Danny Briere and Mike Knuble, won the round-robin Clarke Cup that concluded the first 3 days of training camp yesterday in Voorhees, N.J.

Team Snider finished with a 1-0-2 record. Brian Boucher was the team's goalie. *

Send e-mail to morane@phillynews.com

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