He is back doing what he does, a hundred miles an hour. Lockout ended, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher is about to get his hockey team back, in time for a training camp, if you can call it that. Blink twice and the NHL season is on.
"You know me. It's always every minute counts," Boucher said. "It couldn't be more true than now."
I'm sure his players were climbing the walls as the lockout dragged on, but I figured Boucher would start first and climb highest. For 20 years, hockey seasons are what he did, and then there wasn't one.
But the man surprised me. Really, he lasted until mid-December, by his estimate, before he realized he couldn't watch any more game tape, or minor league games on the Internet, or read any more hockey books, or philosophy and psychology books, or have the Lightning's in-house stats geek feed him any more raw data.
"When you start looking at the last five years, how many wrap-around goals have been scored, why, and from which side, at that point …" Boucher said with a smile, "I'm talking to one of the guys on staff, saying, 'OK, this is ridiculous. We need the players, now .'"
As much as he liked throwing out the first pitch at a Rays game in September (firing the baseball in for a strike with a wrist shot from the mound), he was supposed to be in camp. As much as he embraced community work for the Bolts, he felt guilty — he was getting paid, and he wasn't doing his real deal.
"Humans are creatures of habit," Boucher said. "And my habit has been coaching, for years."
If you have any doubts that this Guy needed to get back on the ice, Exhibit A might be the Amazon rain forest he planted around his Brandon home with all that spare time.
Boucher started small, but when you're a man of vision, and the vision is in lockout … he planted and planted, palm trees, butterfly bushes, more and more, until the Home Depot people said, "Hey, Guy," when he walked in.
"Way overdid it, way overdid it, like everything else I do," Boucher said. "There's never an end to it. This could be better and this could be better … 21 different types of palm trees. For the bigger ones, people had to come in."
The bigger ones?
It was around the 17th or 19th palm that Boucher's wife, Marsha, walked outside and smiled her Marsha smile.
"Guy, it's nice, but it's getting ridiculous."
But here's the thing: Guy Boucher could see the forest for the trees. He spent time with his three young children, 10-year-old Vincent and 9-year-old twins Mila and Naomi. When Marsha took a trip to Europe to visit her sister, Boucher played Mr. Mom.
He did the usual: he burned the morning sausage once, forgot to do the laundry and sat spellbound over his children's lunchtime chatter. He has missed a lot of that while living his hockey life.
"The first thing the kids said when Mom was back was, 'Daddy was like the military,' " Boucher said.
But, for the first time, he coached his son at hockey in a tournament. Vincent had begged him. Dad, what if hockey season starts? Dad loved every second. They reached the championship game.
And, as if we had to ask …
"Oh, they were back-checking," Boucher said.
"This is the first time during a hockey season when I lived a semi-normal life," he said. "You're there on weekends, you're a partner every day to your spouse. The kids are just so happy. I don't think people realize what our life is. We're never there."
Now that alarm clock is ringing. He just about has his players back, a team he has to help rebound from a rough 2011-12 season, one filled with disappointment, injuries and no playoffs after that run to the brink of the Stanley Cup finals two seasons ago, when he was the astounding rookie prodigy.
There are practice and scrimmage schedules, game situations, new skaters, including veteran capable defensemen and a new goaltender. It's a sprint to the season, then a sprint of a season.
"It's a bounce-back year, and this team always bounces back," Boucher said. "Last year, we were the number one team in the league in comebacks after two periods. We've got character."
Remember, his players were caged up, too.
"They were hungry before ," Boucher said. "Now, it's getting those caged animals to play in an orderly manner."
Here comes hockey, and a hockey coach, finally, with chemistry to build, with urgency to impart.
Planting season is over.
Or is it?