Frank Boucher was born into a hockey family. His brother George would play for the Ottawa Senators and win four Stanley Cups and wind up in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1960. His other two brothers, Bob and Billy, both played in the NHL as well. Bob would win the Stanley Cup in 1924, while Billy would score the first goal in the Montreal Forum and register the first hat trick there.
Of them all though, Frank may have been the best and he would have quite an influence on the game of hockey.
Frank Boucher was born on Oct. 7, 1901, in Ottawa, the youngest of six sons to Tom and Annie Boucher. Tom was highly skilled in athletics and had played rugby football for Ottawa College and the Ottawa Rough Riders, winning the Canadian championship in 1894, 1896, 1897 and 1901.
At the age of six, Boucher received his first pair of skates. He began to play hockey on the outdoor rinks and on the Rideau River with his brothers. Boucher would also play for local teams, and he would pay for team equipment by canvasing local businesses and organizations. At one point he visited Rideau Hall and met with Lady Byng, someone who would have a big influence on his hockey career.
Dropping out of school at the age of 13, Boucher worked for the federal government in the munitions department during the First World War.
After the war, he joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and moved west to Lethbridge where he started to play for the Lethbridge Vets.
Boucher then spent a year in Banff and in 1921-22, he came home and started playing for the powerhouse Ottawa Senators, alongside his brother George. In his first game, Boucher would score in the closing minutes of the match.
The Montreal Gazette would write after Boucher’s first game quote:
“The game marked the first appearance in local professional circles of Frank Boucher and Frank “King” Clancy. These youngsters made a hit with the crowd and Clancy and Frank Boucher largely as a result of their own individual efforts were able to jump into the scoring records.”
Since he had played hockey in Western Canada, his rights belonged to the PCHA. He was allowed to play for Ottawa for one season if subsequent seasons were spent with the Vancouver Maroons.
Boucher was seen as a good enough player that there were efforts by the Montreal Canadiens to claim him. The Calgary Herald reported quote:
“Officers of the Canadien Hockey Club have disputed the claim of the Ottawa club to Frank Boucher…The Canadiens base their claim on their right to sign all French-Canadian players from Halifax to Port Arthur and other clubs cannot make overtures until having obtained permission from the French club to do so.”
The claim would go nowhere.
Boucher would play for the Maroons until 1926, helping them reach the Stanley Cup Final in 1923, where his team lost to his brother George and the Senators.
The Calgary Herald reported on Boucher’s play quote:
In 1924, the Maroons went up against Montreal, where his brothers Bill and Bobby played, and he would lose to them as well. One interesting fact is that in the second game of the series, a 2-1 win by Montreal, every goal was scored by the Bouchers.
The Vancouver Province reported quote:
“Frank Boucher brought the Coast champions to within one goal of their opponents after one of the neatest displays of the evening.”
In 1926, the PCHA dissolved, and Boucher was able to move on to the NHL. During his time in the PCHA, he had 40 points in 57 games.
Originally, his rights were sold to the Boston Bruins, but Conn Smythe paid $1,500 for Boucher to come play for the New York Rangers. He would remain with the team until he retired in 1937-38.
The Victoria Daily Times reported quote:
“Tonight, Frank Boucher, former star centre ice man of the Vancouver Maroons, will make his bow before the 400 of New York and probably 25,000 fans from other parts of the big city. Boucher’s poke check should do a lot to wreck the fast rushes of the Maroons.”
On Nov. 16, 1926, Boucher took the opening ceremonial face-off, the first face-off in Rangers history, against Nels Stewart of the Montreal Maroons. The puck was dropped by Lois Moran, a silent film star.
Boucher, a player known for his exceptionally clean play, something I will talk about later, ironically had a very penalty-filled game for his first in the NHL. He would get into a fight with Jack Phillips, earning a major penalty and a $15 fine in the process. Boucher would be cut on the head during the fight.
Through much of his career with the Rangers, Boucher would play on what was called The Bread Line with Bill and Bun Cook. In 1927-28, that line combined for 87 points, impressive considering teams played only 44 games at the time. In 1932-33, the line would score 122 points in 48 games.
Bill Galloway would say of the line quote:
“When Boucher and the Cooks met, it was putting cream and sugar together.”
This line would help the Rangers win the Stanley Cup in 1928 and 1933.
In 1928, the Rangers were only two years old and were up against the heavily favoured Montreal Maroons. In that series, Boucher scored the overtime winning goal in Game 2, and he scored the lone goal in game 4 to tie the series 2-2. In game 5, he scored both goals to win the game for the Rangers and the Stanley Cup. This was only the second time that an American team had won the Stanley Cup, with the Seattle Metropolitans winning in 1917.
The Ottawa Citizen reported quote:
“For several years, Frank Boucher has been an outstanding player and it really was not surprising that he reached his greatest heights in the series just closed.”
Upon their return to New York, the team was welcomed as heroes and Boucher was the main attraction for fans. The Montreal Gazette would write quote:
“Frank Boucher, the great centre of the Rangers, who scored four of the five goals that brought victory over the powerful Montreal Maroons, was the centre of attention. The slightest man on both teams, he gave an amazing exhibition of speed and craft for which he was roundly and continually applauded.”
Remember when I mentioned Lady Byng? Well, here is where she returns to the story of Frank Boucher.
Through his career, Boucher was known for being one of the classiest players on the ice. When Lady Byng donated a trophy for gentlemanly play after seeing a vicious game of hockey, Boucher would win the Lady Byng Trophy seven times in eight years. It got to the point that he was given the trophy outright, and Lady Byng donated another trophy to the NHL. His clean play earned him the nickname of Raffles, after a fictional gentlemanly thief.
With his last Lady Byng award in 1935, Lady Byng herself stated she wanted him to keep the trophy. NHL President Frank Calder would say quote:
“I did not know when I presented the cup to Frankie Boucher at the Lions’ Club banquet a short time ago that it was soon to be his for all time and if I had, naturally, there were other things I would have liked to say on the occasion but, he deserves it.”
Sadly, that original Lady Byng would be lost in 1962 when a fire destroyed Boucher’s farm.
Boucher would retire in 1937-38. Over the course of his NHL career, including 15 games I will talk about later, he had 423 points in 557 games. His best season was in 1929-30, when he had 62 points in 42 games.
Over his career, he was named an NHL First Team All Star in 1932-33, as well as the two following seasons. He would lead the NHL in assists three times, and he is credited with introducing the drop pass to the NHL. He also led the Rangers in scoring five times.
Over the course of his career in the NHL, he had only 119 penalty minutes. From 1932-33 to 1937-38, he never had more than five penalty minutes in a season. He would have only one fight as well, during a time when the NHL was much rougher than it is today.
There was speculation from some that Boucher would now take up his hobby of growing roses. One friend would say quote:
“Frank can tell you the name and way to grow every flower in the business.”
Another rumour had Boucher taking over Italy’s hockey team to get them ready for the Olympics.
The Ottawa Journal would report quote:
“It will take a lot to pry this smooth, brainy centre ice player out the New York fold. There’s no piece of timber in the league more seasoned, steady and reliable than this last active member of the Boucher hockey clan.”
Instead, after his career finished, Boucher coached the New York Rovers, the minor league team for the Rangers. He would then join Lester Patrick on the coaching staff as an assistant coach and helped to lead the team to the Stanley Cup in 1940, the last time the team would win until 1993. That 1993 Stanley Cup is the only Cup the team has won without Boucher being directly involved with the team. When Lester Patrick retired from coaching the Rangers later in 1940, Boucher took over as coach.
He would coach the team to a first-place finish in the NHL in 1942, but the team lost in the playoffs to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Rangers began to lose players to the war effort, and by 1943-44 they were so bad that Boucher came out of retirement to play 15 games, recording 14 points, at the age of 42. This made him the oldest position player ever to play in the NHL until 1968, when Doug Harvey surpassed the mark. In that season for the Rangers, they finished with only six wins.
During his time coaching the Rangers and their farm team, Boucher would bring several changes into hockey. With Cecil Duncan, he began to work on changing hockey rules. In 1937, he tried a single blue-line at centre ice to cut down on offside infractions. That didn’t stick as a rule, but in 1943-44, they introduced the red line to the hockey ice, which would open up the game and allow the defending team to pass the puck out of their zone. This change to hockey would revolutionize the game and is seen as the start of the modern hockey era. As well, during the 1945-46 season, Boucher became the first coach in NHL history to use two goalies regularly.
He was also known to be very accommodating to reporters, ready to talk about his playing days. Clancy Loranger would write quote:
“Off the ice, Boucher was ever willing to sit down with any interested reporter, no matter how callow, and regale him with tales of his long and illustrious career.”
Boucher would take over as general manager of the team in 1947-48, helping the team get back to the playoffs. He would hire Lynn Patrick to coach the team, and the Rangers would come close to winning the Stanley Cup in 1950. At the time, Boucher was at a disadvantage due to the location of New York. Teams in that era had rights to players living within a 50-mile radius. For Montreal and Toronto, that gave them some of the best players in NHL history, but for New York it was slim pickings. Despite that, he was still able to help build a competitive team.
Boucher went back to coaching the team in 1953-54 but he was unable to get the team into the playoffs. Unfortunately, the team was not doing well, even with the hiring of Muzz Patrick as coach. It was soon realized that Boucher would not be able to build a winner for the Rangers and he would resign as general manager, ending 29 years with the team for Boucher.
In his time coaching the team from 1939-40 to 1948-49, and for 40 games in 1953-54, he won 181 games and lost 263 games, with 83 ties.
From 1959 to 1966, Boucher served as the Commissioner of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
Boucher would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958.
In 1974, Boucher wrote When The Rangers Were Young, a book about his experiences with the team during its early years.
He would die on Dec. 12, 1977, in Kemptville, Ontario at the age of 76.
Clam Kealey of the Ottawa Journal would write quote:
“Ultimately Frank Boucher’s fiercest battle was cancer. He battled it beyond 15 rounds, dragged it into the longest overtime struggle of all time. He lost that unwinnable fight yesterday. No one ever came closer to triumph. Turn the sod lightly on this great sportsman from one of Ottawa’s finest athletic families ever.”
In 1975, Boucher was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Boucher was named the 61st greatest player by the Hockey News in 1998. In 2009, the book, 100 Ranger Greats, ranked Boucher as the ninth greatest New York Ranger to play for the team in its first 82 seasons.
While Boucher wore #7 through his career, it is retired as Rod Gilbert’s number, rather than Boucher’s. There is a grass roots movement in process to have Boucher’s name in the rafters along with Gilbert.
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, NHL.com, Wikipedia, Toronto Star, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, Blue Collar Blue Shirts, Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Journal, Calgary Herald, Vancouver Province, Victoria Daily Times,