While youth hockey has spread big-time across the Washington area during the past two decades, it’s still a pretty tight-knit community. So it’s not surprising that Team Maryland, a Rockville-based Bantam Minors team of boys 13 going on 14, boasted two players with connections to the local ice behemoth, the Capitals.
And while those eighth graders attend different schools, live in different towns and play different positions, they’ve been friends since their fathers began working together in 2007.
What’s more remarkable is that the morning of Nov. 28 didn’t damage their friendship. That was when forward Graham McPhee’s dad, Caps general manager George, fired goalie Brady Boudreau’s dad, Bruce, as Washington’s coach after four terrific seasons.
That night the elder McPhee counseled his son to be very understanding if the younger Boudreau shied away or was angry with him the next time they saw each other.
As the schedule would have it, Brady’s Bullis Bulldogs faced Graham’s Mater Dei Griffins the next afternoon.
“I was a little bit worried about how Brady was going to react, but when we saw each other, it was the same as always and it’s still the same,” Graham said after Team Maryland’s final practice of the season. “We’ve never talked about (what happened).”
Echoed Brady, “It was kind of like a normal day.”
It helped that the senior Boudreau was out of work all of three days before being hired as Anaheim’s coach, a development that led to Team Maryland players wearing Ducks caps and jerseys as well as those of the Caps.
It doesn’t hurt that Boudreau wasn’t hired by, say, Florida or Pittsburgh. Non-conference foes Washington and Anaheim haven’t met since the coaching change and won’t unless they each reach the Stanley Cup finals.
“It wasn’t an easy decision for us and it wasn’t an easy decision for George either, but we always knew it was a possibility,” Crystal Boudreau said of her husband’s dismissal. “Nothing has changed between any of us. I know that’s hard to believe, but when you’re in the business, you understand that.”
For the Boudreaus, being apart for so long for the first time during their 21 years together and the first time in Brady’s life has been much harder than the firing.
During the late January NHL All-Star break, McPhee drove to suburban Philadelphia to see Graham play and was thrilled that Boudreau had made the journey from California for a rare chance to watch Brady.
“I was so happy to see Bruce,” McPhee said. “I really enjoyed working with him. We talked so much every day. I understand that there’s probably a part of him that’s disappointed in me and angry with me, not unlike (1997-02 Caps bench boss) Ron Wilson or other coaches. It was excellent that he found another job so soon. He’s a very successful, established NHL coach now. … I couldn’t be more grateful for the way that they’ve handled this because you never know how it’s going to go and I didn’t want to lose (the Boudreaus) as friends. Life’s too short and the relationships are important to me.”
While it’s natural for Brady and Graham to love hockey more than any other sport, the former has always been a goalie to the consternation/bemusement of his American Hockey League scoring star father while the latter is even more of a rink rat than his dad who won the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s top player in 1982.
“We would give Brady a baseball bat and he would try to use it as a hockey stick,” his mother said. “We would give him blocks and the red ones would be the players, the yellow ones would be the fans and the white ones would be the referees.”
That’s all fine, but why goalie, Brady?
“I don’t like skating,” explained Brady, whose bleached blond hair has him ready for his June move to California. “The best part about being a goalie? Breakaways. They’re easy for me. I guess I’m patient. I know every move shooters are going to make. Me and my dad will watch a game and have a bet about who will shoot where. I’m right more often than he is.”
Brady said that Graham has more success against him on breakaways than anyone, but the dark-haired Graham, who missed much of the season with an injured hip flexor, prefers being a playmaker to a shooter.
“Graham had good instincts and good dexterity with the puck from the beginning,” McPhee said.
“I always know where he is in the house because I can hear him shooting pucks in the basement or in the garage. I wasn’t into it as much as he is. You feel really lucky to be able to sort of see what he’s seeing out there, analyzing the situation, (watching) how quickly his brain can react to what his eyes see. Graham’s probably faster than I was and he shoots the puck pretty well. He loves playing the game. We’ve always told him, enjoy playing and if you ever get to play in college, you’ll be lucky enough.”
For the short-term, Graham and Brady plan to stay in touch and hope to see each other at national tournaments.
Long-term, Brady, an honors student who’s gotten used to goodbyes as his dad moved from Manchester (N.H.) to AHL rival Hershey (Pa.) and then to Washington, wants to play at Yale and then own an NHL franchise.
The more outgoing, confident Graham, who has been in Washington since his dad’s 1997 arrival, plays with a little bit of an edge as his under-sized dad did in the pros. He wants to skate for Notre Dame or Boston College under Jerry York (George’s coach at Bowling Green) and then perhaps follow his dad’s path to law school.
And if neither makes the NHL but fulfills the rest of his hockey dreams, perhaps one day agent Graham McPhee will negotiate a contract with owner Brady Boudreau and they’ll think back to that November day in 2011 when their lives changed, but their relationship didn’t.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March.