LEWISTON — Kasey Boucher tried to get into dance, cheering and gymnastics, at the behest of her mother.
But hockey? She was a natural. And she loved it.
Score a win for her father.
"I think my dad was very excited when I said that I wanted to be on the ice playing like my brother, even though my mom probably wasn't too happy," Boucher said."
Don Boucher, Kasey's father, made it easy for Kasey — and scores of other hockey players — to love the game, spending dozens of winters guiding youth teams, select teams and eventually, the girls' ice hockey team at St. Dominic Academy, with great success.
Don Boucher, 50, died Wednesday after battling cancer, less than a week before his Saints were set to open their fifth season, and just a year and a half removed from one of his prouder hockey moments, winning the 2011 MPA Girls' Ice Hockey State Championship.
"We felt strongly about keeping him on," St. Dom's Principal Don Fournier said, "even though he wasn't feeling as well as he had in the past. But we told him, 'If you feel you can do it, you can be out there.' It was a struggle for a while, but he was with the team until the end."
"We did communicate with the girls from the first day we could meet with them that Coach Boucher was struggling a little bit, but he was going to be there through thick and thin," St. Dom's Athletic Director Lee Hixon said. "They knew he was battling cancer, but they didn't know to what extent. When we shared with them that Don had passed away, you're never fully prepared, even when you know it's coming."
The girls' hockey program at St. Dom's was one of the first in Maine, and for years had great success under the tutelage of Dick Robert and his daughter, Jennifer. Boucher took over the same year the sport became MPA-sanctioned, prior to the 2008-09 season, and had been at the helm ever since.
"Fortunately, Don had a great background in hockey," Hixon said. "He played all through high school at Lewiston, he was with the Rousseau clinics for years and years, and hockey was his passion for a long, long time."
"I always looked at it like he was carrying on the Boucher family tradition at St. Dom's," Fournier said, referring to Don's cousin, record-setting St. Dom's boys' coach Bob Boucher, who died in 2007. "He brought a lot of the same things to the table that Bob brought. He was really good with the kids, and got along with them. He pushed them hard, but he always got out of them the best that they could do."
With fewer than 15 skaters, Boucher guided the Saints to a one-loss season in 2010-11, culminating in a state championship.
"I remember having a conversation with him before he was the coach," Sophia Goulet, one of that season's captains, recalled. "He asked me, 'Are you ready to win a state championship?' We didn't get it the first year, but after that, he said, 'You will not graduate without a state championship.'"
The win in 2011 came in Goulet's senior season.
"I remember looking at him after the game, and he was like, 'I told you so,' and he had a big smile on his face," Goulet said. "I couldn't have done it without him. He believed in us and helped us believe in ourselves."
Meanwhile, Kasey had reached a new plateau in her hockey career, which had started under her father's watch. The younger Boucher became a mainstay on the Boston University blue line as the Terriers rose to national prominence in the women's hockey community, losing in the NCAA final to Wisconsin. As a senior, Kasey was one of the top defenders in the country, and won multiple awards for her play. Recently, she has joined a professional team in Boston, and continues her push toward making the national team roster.
"He has always loved the game," Kasey said. "I don't think that is something you can really teach, but he definitely helped show me how to have fun, appreciate the game, and always work hard. He always told me to keep working — he was still giving me a hard time for not being in the gym last week — which has certainly contributed a lot to my success."
Like most sporting communities, the hockey community is small, and the death of one of their own has been a shock.
"Certainly, he's going to be missed very, very much," Lewiston High School coach Ron Dumont said. "Not just at St. Dom's, but throughout the league. The coaches, we all know each other. We all compete; we don't always agree, but at the end of the day, we're all in it for the kids. He certainly was, too."
Even a few days later, Dumont said, the news is still sinking in.
"I'm looking through my own things for the season and cross over the schedule, I cross St. Dom's and it's hard to believe Don isn't going to be there," Dumont said. "It hits hard."
His daughter said she recently realized how many people her father has positively affected through hockey, "St. Dom's and Maine Selects girls — pretty much anyone who's ever played for him."
Paul Gosselin, who has been an assistant at St. Dom's since 2008, will take over coaching duties this season.
"When we let the girls know that Coach Boucher had passed away, Coach Gosselin said, 'I've never seen a more unselfish man. With everything he was going through, his biggest concern was these girls, to make sure they were OK and that things carried on as normal,'" Hixon said. "I applaud Coach Gosselin for those words, and he is exactly right."
The Saints postponed their game at Mt. Ararat on what was to be opening night Friday.
With heavy hearts, the Saints will lace up their skates against Yarmouth on Monday in Lewiston, knowing that's probably what Don Boucher would want them to do.
"We talked to Coach Gosselin, and to the captains, and they were all pretty sure: 'Let's play,'" Hixon said. "As of right now, we're playing."