When you talk to someone about the AHL who spent a long period of time there, you can hear an excitement in their voice about days spent in the top developmental hockey league in the world.
Vegas Golden Knights television play-by-play broadcaster Dave Goucher spent five years working with the AHL’s Providence Bruins before beginning his NHL career with the Boston Bruins.
During his time in the AHL, Goucher saw the absolute lows and absolute highs that a team can go through. The rollercoaster ride that a team can go on brings everyone in the organization along. To hear Goucher tell it, the players, coaches and staff members who enjoy the ride are the ones who make the most of their time as they pursue their NHL goals.
GW: I’ve been hearing so much about the pregame meal in Worcester. What do you remember from that?
DG: I don’t know if I can even remember it. It was certainly one of the better ones in the league, especially compared to Providence where we had popcorn and pretzels. Worcester really did always put out a good spread, I forgot about that. What it was I can’t remember but in 1995 when you’re making about zero money, I’m sure I helped myself to a healthy portion of whatever they were serving.
GW: How did you end up in Providence?
DG: Well, when I got out of college at Boston University, I went to Wheeling in the ECHL for two years. It’s a funny story. My dad was still with us and I was coming home to visit him in Rhode Island during the summer for a week. I called a friend of mine who knew some people who worked with the Providence Bruins and she said to me: “by the way, have you heard that the Bruins are looking for an announcer?” I said no. We were talking for about 15 minutes, talk about burying the lead. She goes: “yeah they’re thinking of making a change in that area.” So, this guy by the name of Randy Scott – who ended up to this day being a good friend of mine – she said she thought he would be the contact for this as he was the VP of Marketing for the team. So, I called over there the next day and I said: “Hi, I’m Dave Goucher. I grew up in Pawtucket just 10 minutes away from Providence.” I gave them my spiel over the phone, and he didn’t sound very interested. I couldn’t blame him; he didn’t know who I was. I said to him: “I’m going to be in Rhode Island next week because I’m coming home to visit my dad.” He told me to give him a call when I got into town, so I did. I got in on that Friday and it was one of those hot, humid, 95-degree days we get back east with 90% humidity. I don’t even know if I had a suit. I had a sports coat and a pair of khakis. I remember going into the Providence Civic Center – now the Dunkin Donuts Center – to interview. I thought it went okay, I don’t have a good gauge for how those things go. I thought it went decent enough and then I went back to Wheeling a couple of days later because at that level you sell advertising during the offseason. They’re not going to hire five people to do five jobs. They’re going to hire one person and have them do all this stuff. So, I went back and probably two weeks later, I was wondering where things stood in Providence, so I called them. They told me I was their number one candidate. That’s always good to know. Around mid-August, I was picking up everything I own – which wasn’t much at that point – and I put it in the back of a U-Haul and towed my car behind me while I made the ride back. The U-Haul had a governor on it, so the 12-hour ride took me 14 hours. I literally moved back into the house I grew up in; into the bedroom I grew up in. That was a strange dynamic because professionally I knew I was climbing a step on the ladder but personally I had the same posters on the wall that I did when I was 14. That was kind of weird. So that’s how I got that job and it turned out to be A-okay. That was in 1995.
GW: That must have been special to be from Rhode Island and call games for the Bruins. What do you remember about that first season?
DG: It was a lot of fun. It was a learning process. I had been in the ECHL for two years and I knew that league. Early that first year, it was a crash course. Bob Francis was our coach, and he went on to coach in the NHL in Phoenix and was an assistant coach in Boston. Peter Laviolette, who coaches in Washington now, he was the captain of the team. Peter and I have known each other for just about 25 years. It was a lot of fun because our division was Worcester, Springfield, Portland, Hartford. We got to jump around and play all those teams. Then we’d go do a game at the old Hershey Park Arena which was unbelievable. The Philadelphia Phantoms had just come into the league as the Flyers’ affiliate and they played at the old Spectrum which I had never been to. That was awesome to do games there.
That year, we did a game at the Montreal Forum because the Fredericton Canadiens were Montreal’s farm team, and they’d play a handful of games in Montreal. It turned out that that year they were supposed to play there in November, but there was a vote because Quebec was thinking of ceding from the rest of Canada. So, they postponed our game to December. It was on a Monday, so we bussed up that morning. From Providence it’s about six hours to Montreal. We went right to the Forum. That was the only time in my life I was ever at the Forum. I jumped around looking in all the nooks and crannies because that was the Mecca of hockey. The funny part about it was that previous Saturday was the night that Patrick Roy got lit up by Detroit. He told the owner of the team he’d played his last game. They didn’t practice Sunday and now it’s Monday. We get to the Forum and it’s a zoo with media because this was the first practice they’d had since he basically said, “I’m out of here.” I remember that night on TV in French and English on the 6 p.m. news, I watched it from the booth at the Forum and he had his press conference live. He announced he’d asked for a trade which ended up being the trade to Colorado. If they had played our game when they initially were supposed to play it, that timing wouldn’t have lined up. I thought that was unbelievable. For the longest time I kept the Montreal Gazette from that day. I don’t think I have it anymore. That was two months into my first year.
GW: The Forum is certainly one of those legendary rinks, but there are some pretty special ones around the AHL. Did you have any favorites that you enjoyed covering games in?
DG: The other Mecca for me is the Boston Garden. I grew up watching and listening to the Bruins forever. I used to do college games there like the Beanpot and the Hockey East Championship at the old Garden in the old radio booth. Not the perch that Fred Cusick and Derek Sanderson had. But in the American League, that old Hershey Park Arena was great. Syracuse was interesting. We would make the circuit of Syracuse, Binghamton, Rochester, Adirondack all in the dead of winter. Talk about the hot spots. I remember the old Glens Falls Civic Center had some charm to it. I remember some of the hotels like the Queensbury Hotel in Adirondack. I can still see the white bedspread with the little beads on them.
One of the most unique places was Memorial Stadium in St. Johns, Newfoundland. The St. Johns Maple Leafs were the AHL team for Toronto back then and it was like 3,500 seats. For the broadcast, you were so close to the ice. The location basically hung over the benches so you could hear the conversations and hear the coaches yelling. That place was really cool. Fredericton played at the Aitken University Centre at the University of New Brunswick rink. Same thing, about 3,500 seats. I still think about how the Dunkin Donuts Center – which still sounds strange to say – holds about 13,000 or 14,000 people for hockey. Most of the rinks were smaller. Hershey Park Arena probably held about 7,000. I just remember the proximity to the ice. That was a big adjustment when I got to the NHL because you’re in a whole different zip code calling the game. Those rinks were all pretty good, but Hershey Park Arena was probably my favorite because it smelled like popcorn. Same with the Cincinnati Gardens. There was just this old school feel to it. Hershey Park Arena to me was like a mini–Boston Garden. I remember you had your perch, but there were fans below you and there was a concourse that ran right in front of you. That was before the internet. Here’s how you got the out-of-town scores. This guy had like a broomstick with a nail at the end of it and they would put a piece of paper through the nail at the end of the stick. It was all handwritten out. Adirondack 6, Syracuse 2. Worcester 6, Portland 1. You grabbed the piece of paper off the nail and that’s how you got your out-of-town scores. I remember that once or twice a period. Just goes to show you there were other ways to do things.
GW: Let’s go through a gameday in the life in Providence. What was the routine?
DG: You had your spots you’d go, but that would be after the game. On a typical game day, you’d be in the office by about 8 a.m. because at that level you’re responsible for all the game notes, all the player bios, all the media passes, the layout of the press box, if scouts were coming, you’re making sure they have everything they need, plus you were the conduit to the media for morning skates and setting up interviews. By the way, you’re doing your own interviews for the broadcast with the coach and a player interview. It was a full day. Sometimes, because there were so many other things going on, the game broadcast was one of the last things you go to. To me, the broadcast was the most important because I was trying to make a living and climb the ladder to get to the NHL. Because you had all these other responsibilities, it was sometimes the last thing you got to on a gameday. At like 5 p.m. I’d take a look to see who’s playing for Adirondack or whichever team it was. We had about a half-hour pregame show. At like 6:20, there would be a scout who would show up at the last-minute and needed a pass. All of a sudden, that’s my problem and we’re going on the air in 10 minutes. I had enough faith in broadcasting games where that piece of it I was comfortable with. I knew I could do my homework on the fly and crash for the exam if you will. It was all the other things on a gameday. Road games were easier because all those other things fell on whoever the “me” was in Hartford or wherever. It was more after the game that we’d go to Player’s Corner Pub. It was a couple of blocks away from the Civic Center. The Bruins won the Calder Cup in 1999 and there was like a downstairs bar there and I remember we had a little private thing for the team at Player’s Corner Pub. I remember walking out of there as the sun was coming up and I had made sure I could drive so I went home to Warwick. I remember there was a convenience store at the end of my street and at like 6 a.m. it had just opened. I wanted to see what the front page of the paper looked like. So, I walked in and there it was on the Providence Journal. There was a great picture of two of our players in full uniform in a hot tub with the Calder Cup between them. I can still see it. Dennis Vaske and Jeremy Brown. I had called them winning the championship, I was part of the celebration, drove home and before I even got home, I had the newspaper from the night before.
GW: How good were those Providence teams while you were there?
DG: They won it in 1999, but I’ll back it up a little bit. In 1998, they finished dead last in the league. They won 19 games. I always figure that you’d win 25 games just by happenstance. Then they brought Peter Laviolette in as the head coach. He had gone to Wheeling funny enough because I had been there. They sent him to Wheeling for one year and then they made a coaching change and brought Peter back to the be the head coach in Providence. That team was a wagon. They were loaded. They went 71-20-4-4 combined that year with regular season and playoffs. They went from worst to first. That was a hell of a team. Half that team had been last in the league the year before and now half that team won the whole thing. In 2000, which turned out to be my last year, they had a much different year. The Boston Bruins had a lot of injuries, so they were constantly reaching to Providence to call players up for a few weeks or a month at a time. Consequently, that’s going to have an effect on Providence. The team wasn’t that good in the regular season, but when Boston missed the playoffs, we got a bunch of players back in Providence. They ended up going to the conference finals and they were up 3-1 on Hartford. Rochester had already advanced and it was going to be a Calder Cup Finals rematch if Providence got through. They lost Game 5 in Hartford after having a two-goal lead in the second period. It’s funny I remember this because I couldn’t tell you what I had for lunch two days ago. They lost Game 6 at home. Providence hadn’t lost a home playoff game in two years. Then they went back to Hartford for Game 7 and Hartford won it in overtime. It was a half two-on-one break. Terry Virtue, who had played for Providence the year before, he was now with Hartford. He was on the left side. John Grahame was the goalie for us. Virtue had it on that left side and Peter Ferraro was busting his butt to get back to try to get to this other winger. It hit Ferraro in the skate and went in the net for the overtime winner. That was it. That was the last game I did there. Three weeks later, I got the job in Boston.
GW: When you look around the AHL, you see teams change affiliations often. In Providence, that was Boston’s AHL team securely. What did you notice about that dynamic?
DG: Well, the main thing is the proximity between the two cities. We will have that here now with Henderson. I think that stability is important. I worked at McCoy Stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox and I grew up within walking distance of the field. I always thought about how people like it when they can see a guy play for the PawSox and then move on to play in Boston. It’s the same things with the Providence Bruins and the Boston Bruins. You can see these guys play on maybe a Friday and then, by chance, you might see a guy play in the NHL on Saturday. A lot of these guys are that close to making the jump to the NHL. Providence had the Reds for a long time and sometimes when I’m back there I hear people talk about the Providence Reds. That team has not played a game in Providence since 1977. Still, everyone talks about the days of the Reds at the old Rhode Island Auditorium. When the Bruins moved there, they moved from Maine where they were the Maine Mariners until 1992. Boston hadn’t had its own AHL team for years. That stability is a good thing. That has to be one of the longest continuous affiliations between the two leagues.
GW: The AHL has a reputation for having fun with promotions, wacky jerseys and things like that. Were there any in Providence that you remember or that other teams did that stick out to you?
DG: The one that I always remember was the teddy bear toss. I can’t remember where it was, but the first goal was scored and everyone’s throwing teddy bears. They would donate them to kids afterwards. I used to think, “this is going to take a half an hour to get these off the ice!” That was probably the biggest one, seeing the ice flooded with teddy bears. We did to a few retro nights with Providence Reds jerseys. We would honor the old team because they had won four Calder Cups. There was such a proud heritage of that team. Back in the days of the Original Six, there were really only 120 jobs in the NHL then. There were so many good players in the AHL that never got the NHL just because there were limited jobs. The Reds had a lot of those guys. They would stay in Rhode Island after the retired and they’d have to work jobs in the offseason. We did a good job of honoring them because the roots of hockey in Rhode Island came from the Reds. We didn’t have anything too crazy, but I really remember the teddy bear toss.
GW: Who were some of the players that were in Providence and around the league that went on to have successful careers in the NHL?
DG: Albany was New Jersey’s affiliate and they had Patrik Elias, Petr Sykora and Sergei Brylin come through there. Jay Pandolfo, too. They had a team. You think about the core of their teams that won the Stanley Cup in 1995, 2000 and 2003, so many of those guys came up through Albany. In Providence, we had Antti Laaksonen who went on to play for Minnesota and Colorado. Landon Wilson played in Boston and Phoenix. Cameron Mann play for the Bruins for a bit. Andre Savage jumped around the NHL a little bit. Randy Robitaille was the AHL MVP the year Providence won it. He played for Boston for a bit and then with Minnesota and Pittsburgh. Dennis Vaske was our captain. He had played for the Islanders for a bit. He was toward the end of his career in Providence. I remember him telling me he’d never won anything at any level he’d ever played at. He’d never won a championship. Then in Providence he won the Calder Cup and retired after that. Those were some of the guys we had. I’ve mentioned Peter Laviolette. Bill Armstrong was on our team and he’s now the general manager in Arizona. They were the coaching staff the year Providence won it. Peter was the head coach and Army was an assistant. Fortunate enough, most of the guys around the team reached the NHL too. Our equipment is now in San Jose, our trainer is in Tampa. Tommy Mulligan is the trainer and I texted him after they won the Stanley Cup and I said: “Congratulations. Three rings are better than two!” He has won twice with Tampa Bay and obviously the Calder Cup with Providence. Those are the guys that come to mind. I’m sure there are more. Jim Carey played with Providence while I was there. He had already played with Washington. He was trying to find his game. That team that won it in 1999 was loaded. I’ve always thought a lot of those guys would have gone on to longer careers in the NHL. Laaksonen probably had the longest. That team was really good. We had Peter and Chris Ferraro and they had already had their stint with the Rangers. They were on their way down a little bit too. I remember Jose Theodore was the goalie for Fredericton back in the day. Those guys with Albany though were the guys that really were a big part of Cup winning teams.
GW: What do you remember about the dynamic between the younger guys on their way up and the older guys nearing the end of their careers in Providence?
DG: Back then, if you played in the AHL – and this has changed now because I think they make a pretty good living there now – you were doing okay but it wasn’t like you were making a ton of money. I think the veteran guys were there because they had already had a cup of coffee in the NHL and they were hoping to get another one. The reality of it was that probably wasn’t going to happen. They had played a long time and playing hockey beat the heck out of a regular job. They loved the game, and they could make enough money to be relatively comfortable. We had Martin Simard, the late Marc Potvin, Mitch Lamoureux, we had some really good veteran guys that understood what it was about, and they would mentor the younger guys. The year we finished last in the league; we had a young team that went through a lot of growing pains on the fly, so they were able to mentor those guys through it. When you’re around a team that wins 19 out of 82 games, that’s a long season. A long season. Half of those guys stuck around the next year and won the whole thing. Aaron Downey was on that team; he was a total piece of work. Just a really tough guy. That was back in the days where guys would have over 400 minutes in penalties. He would be right up there. We had a good mix of guys who had been around for a while and still loved to play. I think they liked the fact that we had really good young players. At that level, if you do what I do, you’re closer to the players at that level because they rely on you for things. If their families are coming to town, they need tickets to the game. If you’re playing in Hartford and their families come, you get them passes to come down after the game. You need them to go do player appearances. At that level, you would book all the team meals on the road and pay for them. You took care of all the per diem on the road. You were on the bus. You’re not chartering anywhere in the American Hockey League. You would never have even thought of it. It was that time on the bus that I remember. We all sat in the same seats. I sat three rows back on the left as you look toward the front of the bus. Peter Laviolette sat in his seat; Bill Armstrong was behind him. You have that connection between the older guys and the younger guys for sure, but with what I did, you spent so much time around them and you needed each other for different things. You were on the bus for hours and hours and hours at a time and you developed a bond that way. I remember Andre Savage plays the guitar. I like to play the guitar. He brought his guitar on a road trip to St. Johns and all of a sudden on the way up we had a sing along for like three hours at the back of the bus. He was taking requests. I’ve never seen it anywhere before or since. You felt like you were a part of it because you were around these guys. It’s a much different deal in the NHL. There’s nothing to complain about in the NHL, but in the AHL, that’s a big charm of that league. You’re all in the same boat. Most people at that level are hoping they’re going to move on to the next level. Broadcasters, trainers, equipment people, coaches, players. In your own way, you were all shooting for the same goal to reach the NHL one day.
GW: Can you remember any crazy games that you called? Whether it was high scoring, there was a brawl, or anything like that?
DG: The highest scoring game I remember was at Syracuse the year that Providence won it. Providence was up 10-0 after the first period. 10-0. I think they set a record for most goals in a period in an AHL game. They ended up winning 14-2. It was unbelievable. At some point, you just have to call off the dogs. In Fredericton that same year, the coaches almost got into it. Jerry Fleming was a huge guy, maybe 6’7, he was the assistant for Fredericton. There was a lot of animosity there and the coaches almost got into it between the benches. It was the funniest thing. Bill Armstrong was the assistant for us and he’s about 6’5. He and Jerry Fleming almost got at each other. Our equipment guy was in the middle of it. The days of the bench clearing brawls had kind of passed. But every once in a while, you’d have a few guys on the ice going at it. I was laughing because a bunch of years later, Peter Laviolette was coaching the Flyers and there’s a video of him and Dan Bylsma yelling at each other.
Another funny part about the 14-2 thing is the next year Providence was in Springfield and lost 14-2. The story goes that was something like 12-2 after the second period. They come off the ice for the second intermission and Peter and Bill said: “well, you’re going to have games like that.” What do you say to the team? In the third period, Springfield scores early to make it 13-2 and it hit a defenseman and went in. Peter is yelling down the bench to Army asking: “who did that hit?” Army goes: “what difference does it make? It’s irrelevant!” The game was gone, it was over! The next day, Steve Bancroft who had been a good veteran defenseman the year before, he calls Peter Laviolette and goes “I just wanted to say hello to the only coach I know that’s gone 1-1 in 14-2 games.” Things like that were great. Tommy McVie was the coach the year they finished dead last and I’d go into his office and it was like story hour. I’d just sit in this orange chair and just have him tell me stories of coaching the Capitals or coaching the Devils. He used to tell his guys in Boston when he was the assistant to Brian Sutter that when a guy was being sent to the AHL, it was Tommy’s job to tell the guy he was being sent to the minors. He’d say: “Kid, come into my office for a second. I’ve got to tell you something. Look, one of us is going to the AHL. You decide which one it is.” He was the absolute best. You form a bond even to this day with those guys. I see Tommy sometimes around, I see Peter, I see Army from time to time. To this day, when you see people that were part of that team in 1999 there’s a bond there that will last forever. I’ve been lucky to be around that team and the Bruins when they won the Stanley Cup in 2011 it really stays with you.
GW: Based on your experience with the AHL, what do fans in Henderson have to look forward to with the Silver Knights?
DG: You’re going to see guys on their way up. It’s the top developmental league in the world. You’ve got players here who are on the rise to bigger and better things. There are steps in that process. I think it’s about 87 percent of guys who play in the NHL played in the AHL. You’re going to see guys who are incredibly hungry to make it. For a lot of them, this is a step in the process of making it to the National Hockey League. That’s the carrot that’s dangled in front of most of them. There are some guys who have played and maybe those NHL days are not going to happen for them. But still, for the overwhelming majority of the league, it’s guys who are hoping to ascend. With that comes incredible passion and hunger. It’s not just with Henderson. It’s with most of the guys playing with every team in the American Hockey League. They have the desire to make it to the show, make a lot of money, fly in private planes. That being said, I can’t speak to the player’s side, but you have to enjoy where you’re at. My time in Wheeling and my time in Providence I had a blast. If you’re going to be in the AHL, Henderson is going to be one of the premier spots to be. With a new practice facility and eventually a brand-new arena, you’re going to be right on the edge of the strip. That’s going to be one of the best spots in the league. The way the players have it in Henderson is arguably going to be better than how players have it on some teams in the NHL which is saying something because most of the teams in the NHL have it pretty good.