Crystal and Bruce Boudreau are the type of people you want to run through a wall for. Bruce is best known as a Jack Adams Award-winning coach who made NHL stops in Washington, Anaheim and Minnesota, but his latest project is a family venture with his wife, Crystal, son Brady and a number of other partners: a junior hockey team in Hershey, Pa., the same town Bruce won a Calder Cup championship in with the AHL’s legendary Hershey Bears back in 2006.
The USPHL franchise has been christened the Hershey Cubs and it’s not even the first junior team the Boudreaus have started. Back in 2017, the husband and wife were living in Minnesota and watching the youngest of their four kids, Brady, go through the junior hockey system.
“We didn’t like how it was run, where you drop kids because another kid comes along, or you have a favorite that plays over someone better,” Crystal said. “And we thought if we worked together, we could have a competitive team while being loyal to the kids and teaching them more than just hockey.”
One conversation snowballed, leading to a phone call to the USPHL. The Boudreaus and their partners (including coach/GM Jay Witta) had the franchise by July and by September, less than two months later, the Minnesota Blue Ox were on the ice for their first season.
Since then, the Blue Ox have been a consistent team in the USPHL’s Premier League – a mid-level junior circuit that boasts franchises from around the nation. But doing things a bit differently was just as important to Crystal and Bruce as wins on the ice. For instance, while many junior teams start with 48-50 kids at training camp before hacking down the roster, Minnesota tried to be as loyal to its kids as possible: they started with 24 players in camp and only added one because they realized the necessity of having a third goalie during a Covid-influenced season.
“We have traded no one and we’ve dropped no one,” Crystal said. “Has it been perfect? No. But you teach them, you work with them and they work hard. We wanted to do more than say ‘just show up and skate.’ Our team requires community service – you either have to have a job or go to school or volunteer. You aren’t allowed to just come home and play video games for eight hours.”
The team has a group chat with all the players’ parents to let them know what their kids are doing and why they’re doing it. The Blue Ox also imposed an 11pm curfew and the results have been positive. In fact, the one stray was kinda comical.
“Not all our kids live with billets,” Crystal said. “The one kid that got caught, his mother turned him in. Everyone is accountable.”
Speaking of billets, that has been one of the most rewarding parts of the whole experience for the Boudreaus. The Blue Ox have had some European imports in the past couple seasons and some of their billets even went to Europe this past summer to hang out with them.
“It’s building relationships and growing the sport,” Crystal said. “A family that didn’t have anything to do with hockey decided to billet; now all their kids play. It’s about being in the community and giving something back, not just being a taker. And we want all our players to do that too: feel good about leaving something behind, knowing you did good, making a mark and changing somebody’s life.”
Now the Boudreaus are taking their philosophies to Hershey, a town with a great hockey tradition but no junior team. Having lived all around North America already, the Boudreaus had been trying to figure out where their “forever home” was going to be for years and Hershey kept coming up as the answer. Bruce may not be coaching in the NHL right now, but his name is already in rumors for upcoming jobs and the passion runs deep (“He’s never going to be completely done,” Crystal said. “Like, that’s just not happening.”). Having said that, bringing a USPHL franchise to Hershey made a ton of sense.
In the past, kids from the area had to go to Philadelphia or New Jersey for junior hockey, or go play for a prep school somewhere. Now, kids will be able to stay home and play in an historic sports town: NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain had his 100-point night at the same arena the Cubs will get to play at.
With the Boudreaus’ vast experience in hockey, from the Blue Ox to the hockey schools they’ve been running for years, the new Hershey Cubs look to be in good hands. But will Hershey be the last destination for a new Boudreau-backed junior team?
“I don’t know if we’d go to another city,” Crystal said. “Well, that’s not true – If one of our kids was established somewhere and wanted one, we would help them. That’s how we went from one hockey school to five and now we spend all summer helping them get theirs up.”
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