By Don Hammack
The Sun Herald
BILOXI, Miss. – Two folks in the middle of pandemonium and a sheet of ice in Milwaukee were thinking about you Thursday night.
Bruce Boudreau and Bob Woods coached the Hershey Bears to the franchise’s record-tying ninth American Hockey League championship with a Game 6 victory over the Admirals. The two former Mississippi Sea Wolves coaches are the Bears’ brain trust, and they earned a special place in many South Mississippians’ hearts in 1999 when they helped the Sea Wolves win the Kelly Cup.
“I was thinking of all the Mississippi Sea Wolves fans when I was hoisting that cup,” Woods said. “It’s sad they didn’t have the chance to watch hockey this year, but they haven’t been forgotten. They’re a big part of our life.”
Anybody in the crazed, sold-out Mississippi Coast Coliseum on May 30, 1999 — has it really been that long? — will remember Woods scoring the game-tying goal in the dying moments of regulation of Game 7 and the two overtimes of drama that produced the championship.
For Woods, it’s his third title. He played on Hershey’s last Calder Cup team in 1997.
For Boudreau, he’s found either a remarkably lucky charm in Woods or a partner with magic chemistry.
“As a supporting figure to a head coach, he was perfect for me,” Boudreau said. “We’re two-for-two, so I don’t think we’re a bad team.”
There had to have been an overwhelming sense of vindication for Boudreau with this season’s ending. Manchester fired him following the 2004-05 season, after a 51-win campaign ended with a fourth straight first-round playoff elimination.
“It was almost a year ago to the day, June 13,” he said. “You think your world has ended and you think you’re no good at anything anymore.
“And then a year later, you couldn’t be happier you got fired.”
Boudreau landed in Hershey, then plucked Woods, who must certainly have an AHL head-coaching future, from the Sea Wolves before Hurricane Katrina battered them into at least a two-year hiatus. (Woods’ replacement, Steffon Walby, had 47 points on that 1997 Hershey Bears team too, by the way.)
Woods talked Friday about the similarities between the Sea Wolves’ championship team and this one. Both were filled with good character guys who sweated and fought for each other.
Boudreau talked in more specifics. He’d talked about the formula when I visited him a couple years after he left for the AHL.
The first line should be high scoring. Remember Vashi Nedomansky with Cody Bowtell and Mikhail Kravets?
The second line can score and check. Folks who were there will never forget Kelly Hurd undressing two Richmond defenders for the goal that sparked the Kelly Cup comeback, with Kevin Hilton and Chris Schmidt playing alongside.
Boudreau’s third line is a checking line, and he said he had the best in the league both years. Here, it was the Mark Rupnow-John Kosobud-Brad Essex combination.
There was a mix of offensive defensemen (Sean Blanchard, Bob Woods) and stay-at-home guys (Karl Infanger, Patrick Rochon).
It also didn’t hurt that both teams’ goaltenders were named playoffs MVP. Frederic Cassivi was this year’s Travis Scott.
“You don’t have to have absolutely the best players, but the formula really works,” Boudreau said. “If you can bottle up that formula, the combination of players and goaltending, I think you can win a lot of championships.”
Or, you could just hire Bruce Boudreau and Bob Woods. They’re two-for-two together, you know.