With a terminally ill father at home, Phillipe Boucher put a smile on his dad's face by playing his heart out
Mark Spector in Dallas, National Post
Published: Thursday, January 25, 2007
It was late November. Philippe Boucher, 600 games into a low profile National Hockey League career, was muddling through another season on the Dallas Stars blue line, on his way to another decidedly indecisive campaign.
His father, Jean-Claude, was back home, terminally ill with pancreatic cancer. His mother, Jacqueline, had a heart-valve replacement on Nov. 16. She was convalescing. The Bouchers' only child was far away in Dallas playing, well, all right, struggling through that inevitable time in our lives when our parents' health begins to fail.
Everyone in the Boucher clan could use a little cheering up, Boucher thought. But if there was to be any good news, it would have to come from his end.
He had just three goals and nine points through the first 20 games of the season. Then suddenly one night against Los Angeles, Boucher, racked up his first career hat trick. At age 33.
"That was the whole idea of my struggle early in the year," Boucher said after Tuesday's night's Super Skills competition at the NHL All-Star Game in Dallas. "I wanted to call my Dad and say, 'Hey Dad, we won. Hey Dad, I got a goal.' The next day he'd say, 'You know, I felt a little better.' If it was just for five minutes that I brightened his day, that's all I was looking for. Things snowballed, and I?m having a great year."
He's got 13 goals [tied for second among NHL defencemen], 33 points, and plenty of good news for those phone calls home he makes after every game. None perked the old man up more than when he announced he'd been named an NHL all-star for the first time in this, his 13th NHL season.
"It's a celebration, a gift for all the sacrifices he did for me as a kid. Taking me to the arena at five o'clock in the morning," he said. "Obviously, I wish he was here. Same with my Mom. But for them to watch it on TV, for them to hear about it ... My Dad, he's actually at peace now. It was harder earlier on, but he's at peace."
There isn't a lot of time left for Jean- Claude, 68, who raised his son with a hockey stick in his hand in St. Apollinaire, a small town across the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City. He was a plumber, she was a secretary, and though the marriage broke up when Philippe was still in elementary school, they kept their focus on raising their boy.
As Boucher sits in his dressing room stall, telling his very personal story to another reporter from another city, it becomes pretty clear: the exercise has become cathartic for him. Boucher likes to talk about his father, a tireless volunteer for minor sports organizations in St. Apollinaire. He enjoys telling the story of how he brought an allstar jersey to his father's room at the hospice, and how, after a while, his Dad asked permission to auction the jersey off locally, to raise some money for the local minor hockey association.
"When I went home the first time," Boucher explained, "I asked my Dad. I said, 'Dad, I'm going to be asked about this. About you and me, and about what's going on.' He said just to be honest, to tell the truth. It is what it is," Boucher said.