Bruce Boudreau is a long-time fan of professional wrestling.
That's why it was no surprise that when Boudreau wanted to bring a "player of the game" award to the Vancouver Canucks, he created a Canucks Championship Belt.
"We didn't have anything to bring us together after a big win," said Boudreau to the Canucks in the locker room after the team's 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. "So, I went out — and I hope you don't mind — I got something that I'd like to start. And whoever gets it has got to say a little something and then he hangs it in their stall."
"Demmer, you want to go get it," joked someone in the room, referring to the career-high 51 saves Thatcher Demko made in the win. But Boudreau clarified that it wasn't for the player who played the best, necessarily, and gave the belt to Juho Lammikko, who scored the game-winning goal.
The belt reads "Vancouver Canucks: the reigning and defending gamenight champ."
Boudreau had hinted at introducing a little bit of wrestling flavour to the Canucks in an interview with Jackie Redmond on NHL Network when he first joined the team as head coach after hilariously prolonging the interview to get an update on how Kevin Owens performed on Monday Night RAW.
Unsurprisingly, Kevin Owens, the pride of Marieville, Quebec, makes Boudreau's top-five list of his favourite wrestlers.
Boudreau was asked for his top five during Wednesday's media availability following Canucks practice.
"Bret Hart's number one," said Boudreau immediately, then joked that he was going to go with all Canadians because number two is Kevin Owens.
Hart is a worthy choice as number one — he's one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time. He's from Calgary, Alberta and is nicknamed "The Hitman." His connections to hockey run deep, as he was one of the founders and part owners of the Calgary Hitmen in 1994, lending his nickname to the team.
Owens played hockey when he was younger before he committed to wrestling and says he's a fan of Boudreau as well, particularly his bombastic style in interviews.
"I always really liked Bruce because every time I come across an interview of his...he's very free with the way he speaks," said Owens. "It reminds me of myself a lot. So, I always really got a kick out of him."
Number three for Boudreau: Johnny Powers, another Canadian, who was born in Hamilton, Ontario, near where Boudreau grew up.
"There was a guy when I was growing up named — I don't even know if it was his real name — Johnny Powers," said Boudreau. "He started the figure four, or he was the first guy I saw do that."
The figure four is a leg lock made famous by Ric Flair, who frequently used it as a finishing move. It was supposedly invented by Buddy Rogers, who was one of Johnny Powers' wrestling heroes, so Powers borrowed the move and incorporated it into his own style, turning it into his finishing move, the Powerlock.
To round out his top five, Boudreau had to leave Canada for two of the all-time greats.
"Who didn't like Steve Austin and The Rock?" said Boudreau. "They were characters, they were great storytellers, and I think the storylines were so good back then that they made it very interesting to watch."
Boudreau's love for a strong storyline extends beyond wrestling. He admitted in a 2009 interview that he and his teammates back in the 70's and 80's used to watch soap operas — one of the few options available on TV in the afternoons between morning practices and evening games.
"After practice, we would all go to lunch, and rush home to see what was happening," said Boudreau. "It was crazy. Hockey players, when they're young, they have nothing to do...You'd get involved in a storyline, and you wanted to know how it ended up. I used to hate it. One little storyline would last two weeks. The littlest thing, like walking from one house to the other house."
He watched the classics: General Hospital, One Life to Live, and All My Children. Part of the appeal of professional wrestling, then, was the drama and storytelling of soap operas mixed with the athleticism of sports.
"I mean, it's entertaining," said Boudreau. "I don't sit there and believe it, but some of their athleticism is quite good. And they certainly can take pain, and they're tough. I've met a lot of wrestlers, and I really admire them because of the toughness that they've shown."
To recap, here are Boudreau's five favourite wrestlers:
- Bret "The Hitman" Hart
- Kevin "KO" Owens
- Johnny Powers
- "Stone Cold" Steve Austin
- Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson