The newest head coach in the NHL, Bob Boughner was a wide-eyed rookie skating at the venerable old Toledo Sports Arena when he first observed the unbridled passion of pro hockey fans.
Boughner, who was named coach of the Florida Panthers last month, started his pro career with the Toledo Storm in the 1991-92 season. The defenseman got his feet wet playing in the chaos that often prevailed at the intimate arena and intimidating building on One Main Street in East Toledo.
“I loved my time playing for the Toledo Storm and playing in the old building. It was my first taste of pro hockey,” Boughner said.
“I will never forget the passionate fans hanging over the short glass in the old rink.
“So many people got dinged with pucks over the glass.”
Boughner (pronounced BOOG-nur) was named the 15th head coach of the Panthers on June 12. The 46-year-old native of Windsor, Ont., played 10 seasons in the NHL.
He originally was selected by Detroit in the second round of the 1989 NHL draft. The Red Wings sent him to their ECHL affiliate in Toledo to start his pro career.
Boughner played for Storm coach Chris McSorley, a fiery and demanding character who led Toledo to back-to-back Riley Cups in 1993 and ’94. Boughner said McSorley, who also played for the Goaldiggers and raked up 798 penalty minutes in two seasons, taught him how to win.
“Chris McSorley was very intense and passionate,” Boughner said. “He hated losing more than the players. I respected him and the way he treated me as a young prospect going through my first pro hockey experience.”
Boughner played in 28 games with the Storm before advancing quickly through the ranks. The defenseman played in 630 NHL games from 1996 to 2006. Boughner played for the Buffalo Sabres (1995-98), Nashville Predators (1998- 2000), Pittsburgh Penguins (2000-01), Calgary Flames (2001-03), Carolina Hurricanes (2003-04), and Colorado Avalanche (2004-06).
Boughner played alongside such NHL legends as Jaromir Jagr, Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic, Jarome Iginla, and Dominik Hasek during his playing career.
“My lifelong dream was always to become an NHL player,” Boughner said.
“Definitely being a former player and having played for the likes of [McSorley], Lindy Ruff, Barry Trotz, Darryl Sutter, Joel Quenneville, and Paul Maurice has helped me mold my own style and philosophies.”
Florida general manager Dale Tallon said the organization went through an exhaustive search, but Boughner clearly stood out.
“During the interview process, Bob blew us away with his preparation, his passion, knowledge, and dedication to the game,” Tallon said. “He sees the game in a modern way and is eager to work with our young players. We believe that he is the right leader to get our team back to competing toward our goal of winning the Stanley Cup.”
After retiring, Boughner said it felt natural to transition into coaching. He first served as head coach of his hometown Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League for eight seasons (2006-10, 2011-15). He led the team to two consecutive Memorial Cups (2009, ’10) and was named the OHL coach of the year in 2007-08 and 2008-09.
“At the end of my career, I started really taking notice of the coaching part of the game,” Boughner said. “I’ve always had a passion to work in the game and be a leader, and coaching is the next best thing to playing. You are competing, and you still have a direct impact on the outcome of the game.”
In 2006, Boughner headed an ownership group to purchase the Spitfires. He then not only served as the organization’s coach, but also its president.
“I got to cut my teeth as a rookie coach in Windsor in the OHL, and I was fortunate to be able to win a couple championships and get to coach many players that have graduated from our system and gone on to be great NHL players,” he said.
Boughner began his NHL coaching career as an assistant with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2010-11. He served as an assistant coach for the San Jose Sharks for two seasons (2015- 17), and helped the Sharks advance to the postseason twice.
Boughner said Toledo served as a springboard to a life in hockey, from playing at the highest level to now coaching the best hockey players in the world.
“My three years as an assistant coach in the NHL has also helped my preparation, and all of it has put me in this situation for this challenge and journey as an NHL head coach,” Boughner said.
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