There is a theory, if you follow emotional intelligence or neuroscience, that it takes six seconds to manage anger…to create compassion…to change the world. On a snowy January night in Montreal — all January nights in Montreal are snowy — Henry Boucha changed the world in six seconds.
In the big picture, the world he changed was insignificant: fastest NHL goal after the opening face-off…his six seconds of fame at the Forum. Detroit teammate Red Berenson won the face-off. Bill Collins took the puck and slid it to Boucha, whose short-side backhand fooled goalie Wayne Thomas.
All in six seconds.
It wasn’t likely the highlight of Henry Boucha’s career but, as I watched from the Forum press box, it was my highlight of Henry Boucha’s career. If I’d been late leaving the press room, I’d have missed something special. He scored against a Montreal team that won the Stanley Cup six times in the ’70s including that season (1972-73). It was one of just 10 games those mighty Canadiens would lose. Thomas was the goalie only because Ken Dryden was hurt.
Earlier in January, Boucha hadn’t scored in 64 consecutive games. The six-second goal was his sixth of the month, one of 53 in his career, and the first of four at the Forum. It was the month Boucha “announced” he was in the NHL to stay, to being a star.
Or so everyone thought. On a January night two years later in Minneapolis, where all January nights are also snowy, his career ended. Midway through his only season with the North Stars, his right eye was blind-sided from behind by Dave Forbes’ stick. Carried off on a stretcher, Boucha was left with 30 stitches, damaged eye muscles and double vision. His attempted comeback ended because he kept seeing two pucks.
Boucha returned to Warroad, his hometown, named from the Ojiba word Kaabekanong. He’d been a teenage hockey legend there, touted as a future NHLer. As an NHLer, he was called the best hockey player from Minnesota, ever. Yet his career really lasted only four NHL seasons that were bookended by 16 games before and 9 after.
Forced out at 25, he eventually found a new passion: promoting, encouraging and telling the stories of Indigenous athletes through his film company…in particular Native Olympians (he won Olympic silver with the 1972 U.S. team). He wants those who follow to see that his heritage was an asset in hockey and in life.
Last weekend, I was watching a Hockey Night in Canada interview with a First Nations (Cree) player, Ethan Bear. He’s one of six Indigenous NHL players. In Boucha’s day, there were four: him, Reggie Leach, Jim Neilson and Bryan Trottier. So many years later, I thought there would be more and if Henry Boucha has his way, there will be. One day, maybe enough to make keeping score less important.
Henry’s record was broken by Trottier and two others, by one second, and a hockey historian timed 1926 hockey films and claimed somebody named Merlyn Phillips also did it in five seconds.
For me, it will always be six seconds, Henry Boucha.