Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Frank Boucher
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One on One with Frank Boucher

19 NOVEMBER 2011
The Bread Line
The Bread Line - Bill Cook (left), Frank Boucher (centre) and Bun Cook (right). (Hockey Hall of Fame)
In the broad pantheon of hockey, only a handful of families can boast multiple siblings making it to the National Hockey League. While the six Sutter brothers certainly set the bar high, the Bouchers are not far behind. Billy, Bobby, Buck and Frank all enjoyed NHL careers, while Buck and Frank Boucher are Honoured Members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Francis Xavier Boucher was the youngest of six boys and two girls born to Tom Boucher and Annie Carroll. Born October 7, 1901 in Ottawa, Ontario, 'Frank' and his brothers inherited a love of sport from their father, who played rugby football for the Ottawa Rough Riders alongside 'King' Clancy, the father of the Hall of Fame defenseman. The Rough Riders won championships in 1894, 1896, 1897 and 1901.

Frank Boucher joined the New York Rangers prior to the 1926-27 season
Frank Boucher joined the New York Rangers prior to the 1926-27 season.
(Hockey Hall of Fame)
At the age of six, Frank received his first pair of skates as a Christmas gift. Anxious to try out his double-bladed skates, Frank and his brothers went over to an outdoor rink but Frank fell repeatedly and never wore the skates again.

After mastering the single-bladed skates handed down from his brothers, Frank and the other Bouchers played hockey by the hour, often on the Rideau Canal. The boys went door-to-door in their neighbourhood to look for odd jobs in order to raise enough money for equipment. At Rideau Hall, the home of the Governor General, young Frank first met Lady Byng, wife of Canada's twelfth vice regal. She would later play a significant role in Frank Boucher's legacy.

Boucher left school at the age thirteen to take a job as an office boy with the federal government's munitions department during the First World War. In 1919, following the war, Frank joined the Lethbridge, Alberta detachment of the North West Mounted Police (predecessors to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police). There, he organized teams with his co-workers while also playing senior hockey for the Lethbridge Vets.

In 1920, Frank was sent to Regina, Saskatchewan for training and drew such broad attention playing with the Redcoats in 1920-21 that he attracted the attention of the National Hockey League's Ottawa Senators, who purchased his discharge and added him to the roster for the 1921-22 season. Boucher returned home to Ottawa in 1921 and joined the Senators of the National Hockey League. The team was loaded with talent — Clint Benedict, Punch Broadbent, King Clancy, Cy Denneny, Eddie Gerard and Frank Nighbor, as well as Buck and Frank Boucher, would all find themselves one day inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The Ottawa Senators finished first but were eliminated from Stanley Cup competition by the Toronto St. Pats.

In a curious twist, having played senior hockey in western Canada, the rights to Frank Boucher belonged to the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, who loaned Frank to Ottawa for 1921-22 on the condition that he return to western Canada and play for the Vancouver Maroons in 1922-23. In a curious twist, George and the Vancouver squad took the PCHL title, earning a trip to the Stanley Cup final against his old team, the Ottawa Senators, with whom his brother Buck played (Ottawa defeated Vancouver for the Stanley Cup). The next year, the Maroons again went to the final, but this time, faced the NHL champion Montreal Canadiens, who featured his brothers Billy and Bobby. The Maroons were again defeated as Montreal took the best-of-three series 2-0.

New York Rangers head coach Frank Boucher with general manager Lester Patrick
New York Rangers head coach Frank Boucher with general manager Lester Patrick.
(Imperial Oil-Turofsky/HHOF)
The PCHA had evolved into the Western Canadian Hockey League and then, to the Western Hockey League by 1925-26, but at the conclusion of that season, the league was dissolved. Players were quickly signed to contracts by new NHL franchises. The rights to Boucher were sold to the second-year Boston Bruins, but almost as quickly, Conn Smythe, who had just been hired as the general manager of the New York Rangers, who had just been granted an NHL franchise to begin play in 1926-27, paid Boston $1,500 for Boucher. As he assembled a team for the start of the season, Smythe was counselled by Bill and Bun Cook, players he had just signed from the Saskatoon Crescents of the WHL, who commented on Boucher's skills as an opponent in that league. Boucher joined the Rangers for 1926-27, and the team finished first in the newly-created American Division. The team's foundation was based upon a line that saw Boucher centre brothers Bill and Bun Cook. Bill finished first in league scoring while Boucher was seventh.

In 1927-28, the team's second year of existence, the New York Rangers finished second in their division. Boucher was the third-leading scorer (35 points) while linemates Bun and Bill Cook also made the top 10, collecting 28 and 24 points respectively. By this point, New York City scribes had tagged the trio as the 'Bread Line' — wordplay on the line-ups for free food that had started to spring up in the metropolis. That spring, the Rangers went on to defeat the Montreal Maroons in the final to claim the Stanley Cup.

New York Ranger player Neil Colville chats with head coach Frank Boucher
New York Ranger player Neil Colville chats with head coach Frank Boucher.
(Imperial Oil-Turofsky/HHOF)
The Bread Line was as formidable as any line in hockey during the late-1920s and 1930s. Boucher finished sixth in scoring in 1928-29, second in 1929-30, eighth in 1930-31, third in 1933-34 and fourth in 1934-35. He led the NHL in assists in 1928-29 (16), 1929-30 (36) and 1932-33 (28). Year later, broadcast legend Foster Hewitt recalled, "The way the Russians play reminds me of the old Rangers, especially the line of Boucher and the Cooks. They were even better than the Russians. When Frank, Bill and Bunny were on the ice, it always seemed to me they had the puck on the string."

After finishing first in the American Division in 1931-32, the Rangers slipped back to a third-place finish in 1932-33, although just four points behind Boston and Detroit, who both finished with 58 points. The Rangers battled through the playoffs, defeating Montreal and Detroit before facing the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Toronto Maple Leafs, in the final. The best-of-three series saw New York take a quick two games to none lead, but the Leafs battled back in Game 3 to take a win. In Game 4, played on April 13, 1933, the game was a scoreless tie at the end of regulation, but 7:33 into overtime, Bill Cook scored to break the tie, thus winning the Stanley Cup for the Rangers. The victory has come to be known as the 'Forgotten Cup,' as the presentation didn't take place until November 11 that year, some seven months after the Rangers' win.

New York Ranger player Bryan Hextall being congratulated by Frank Boucher while teammate Dutch Hiller looks on
New York Ranger player Bryan Hextall being congratulated by Frank Boucher while teammate Dutch Hiller looks on. (Imperial Oil-Turofsky/HHOF)
Boucher continued to star with New York until midway through the 1937-38 season, when the Rangers hired him to coach the New York Rovers, their Eastern Hockey League affiliate, who also played at Madison Square Garden. Frank guided the Rovers to a championship that season.

The experience energized Boucher, and when Lester Patrick stepped down from coaching the Rangers to concentrate on management in 1939-40, he brought Frank up to coach the team. Boucher responded by guiding the Rangers to a Stanley Cup championship, defeating the Maple Leafs in six games through a best-of-seven final.

Frank Boucher continued to coach the Rangers for an additional ten seasons. In 1943-44, his squad was so threadbare (and desperate) because of the war effort having stripped much of its roster that the 42-year-old coach actually suited up for 15 regular season contests, and still showed flair, contributing 4 goals and 14 points. Unfortunately, he was the sole bright light, as the Rangers won but six games all that season.

When Lester Patrick retired as general manager of the Rangers in 1949, Frank Boucher moved into that role, and continued until his (forced) retirement in 1955. During that time, he coached New York again in 1953-54. While working with the Rangers, Frank served as chairman of the NHL rules committee for 15 years. Along with Cecil Duncan of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, Boucher introduced the centre red line in 1943-44, helping facilitate an excitement to the game as teams could then pass the puck out of their own zone.

Jack Dennett and Frank Boucher
Jack Dennett and Frank Boucher.
(Imperial Oil-Turofsky/HHOF)
While much has been written about his prowess as a playmaking centre, Boucher's legacy is likely resting in his gentlemanly play. The Lady Byng Trophy was introduced to the NHL by the Governor General's wife in 1925. Three years later, Frank Boucher was named the winner of the prestigious award for the first of seven times in eight seasons, winning it in 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1933, 1934, and 1935. Boucher had exhibited such consistent gentlemanly play that Lady Byng gave him the actual trophy to keep and donated a second trophy in 1935-36. Regrettably, the original trophy was destroyed in a 1962 blaze at Boucher's house.

Frank Boucher is arguably the greatest of the New York Rangers through their earliest existence. He finished his NHL career with 160 goals and 263 assists for 423 points in 557 regular season games, and added another 16 goals and 20 assists for 36 points in 55 playoff contests. He retired as the NHL's career assist leader. Besides being awarded the Lady Byng Trophy seven times, Frank was a First Team All-Star in 1933, 1934 and 1935 and was named to the Second Team in 1931. He was, of course, also a two-time Stanley Cup champion.

In addition, Boucher played 113 regular season games in the PCHA/WCHL/WHL, which paralleled the NHL at the time, and recorded 57 goals and 33 assists for 90 points. He was an All-Star in 1923, 1924 and 1925.

Frank Boucher succumbed to cancer in Kemptville, Ontario on December 12, 1977, but not before he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958. In 1993, he was posthumously awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy for contributions to hockey in the United States. In 1998, The Hockey News ranked Frank Boucher number 61 on its 100 Greatest Players of All-Time.

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.