Long before Ben Rocheleau put on his first black-and-white hockey sweater, he knew where he wanted to play and who he wanted to play for.

Rocheleau wanted to be a Saint in a St. Dom’s uniform, and he wanted to lace up his skates for Bob Boucher.

“For me, it was a big, big deal to make that team,” said Rocheleau, who played from 1992 to 1996 and now coaches at Massabesic High School. “I remember growing up and watching him coach in the 1980s. I was thinking that I wanted to play for them, and play for him. I wanted to play for St. Dom’s because that is a team. I worked really hard as an individual as a young kid so I would have that opportunity to play for him.”

Boucher helped build the Saints hockey program into one of Maine’s hockey superpowers. He coached for 25 years and not only produced numerous wins and championship but a breed of hockey players that still serve his legacy.

Boucher died late Thursday after taking ill while on vacation in Florida last weekend. Maine’s hockey community grieved Friday as word spread that one of the state’s hockey legends was gone.

“We lost a giant,” said Scott Rousseau, the Falmouth coach and former St. Dom’s player. “We’re going to miss him. He’s been around for so long; it’s hard to think about the high school hockey landscape without him around. It’s going to take awhile to get used to.”

Norm Gagne coached against Boucher for years when St. Dom’s and Waterville were two of the elite hockey programs in the state.

“He was a great coach, and I think the hockey community and the St. Dom’s community is losing a very good leader,” said Gagne, who now coaches at Lewiston. “He was a great competitor. He loved to compete. He did a fantastic job with his kids. He was one who when you played St. Dom’s, you knew his team was going to be ready. He did an outstanding job with the kids that he had.”

Boucher coached the Saints for 25 years and won five state championships before stepping down after the 2004-2005 season. A degenerative disorder hampered his health in recent years, but he remained connected to the sport. Ryan Guerin was the captain of the last Saints team Boucher coached.

“It was my senior year, and he didn’t go on the ice a lot with us,” said Guerin, who will play at Hamilton College next year. “He still tried as much as he could, but he didn’t have his balance. They weren’t still sure what it was, and he was still going for tests, but he was always happy to be at the rink. You could tell that he still loved it no matter how much he had to go through to do it.”

In the last year, he was honored by the Class A Hockey Coaches Association and the Auburn-Lewiston Hall of Fame. He had been the athletic director since 1980 and also coached the soccer team for 16 years, winning three state crowns.

“I was watching the state semifinals with him, the Lewiston-Bangor game, he was at the arena that day,” said Rousseau. “I was thinking how far we’d come from 1980 when he was essentially the same age as I was when I started. It was just a little weird not having him as a coach but comforting to see him still around at the arena and still see how much pleasure he got from hockey. He really had a passion for the game. We’re not going to be able to replace him.”

Boucher’s program produced many players that succeeded in college, including Maine stars Greg Moore and Derek Damon. Both are now playing in the American Hockey League.

“He just really enjoyed coaching and being around the sport and working with kids,” said Moore, currently in the AHL playoffs with the Hartford Wolfpack. “I can’t remember one miserable time at St. Dom’s playing for him. It was always a lot of fun, and he made it fun. It helped drive kids to want to keep going with it.”

When Moore decided to leave the Saints program for the U.S. National Development program, Boucher was one of his staunchest advocates.

“I remember when I was making the decision to leave St. Dom’s at the end of my sophomore year, he was one of the few people that was extremely supportive of me and happy for me,” said Moore. “He always looked at his player’s best interests. There were some people at St. Dom’s that didn’t want me to leave and thought it was a bad mistake. He was always there for me and supporting me.”

Gagne and Boucher butted heads on numerous occasions as heads of two of the most dominant hockey programs of the era. Both had their shares of wins and losses against the other. One of Gagne’s most memorable was a come-from-behind victory in the semifinals back in the mid-1990s.

“They were ahead 5-1 going into the third period,” said Gagne. “We came back in the third period and won in overtime. It was one of those memorable comebacks. I looked at him and I said, ‘That was a miracle.’ He said, ‘That’s hockey. That’s the way it is.’ It didn’t seem to bother him. Maybe inside, but he never showed it. He said, ‘If you let up, that’s what happens.'”

One regret Gagne has is that he never had the chance to coach at Lewiston while Boucher was still on the Saints’ bench.

“That would have been the icing on the cake,” said Gagne. “Growing up here, I remember watching the St. Dom’s and Lewiston games, I never realized the intensity of the game until I was in it. I really would have liked to have had the opportunity.”

Rousseau was the state’s leading scorer and helped the Saints win the state championship his junior year. Then Boucher informed him that he was being moved to defense. Being a goal-hungry, glory-seeking high school kid, Rousseau didn’t take to the change well, but it didn’t take long for him to understand.

“Through the course of the year, I began to grow up and see the game and life through more mature eyes and accepted it and grew to like it,” said Rousseau. “Then I became a defenseman in college. Now as I coach, how many guys have I moved positions? They might not have liked it, but it was what we needed.”

That’s a lesson Boucher not only taught but also lived. It was not about him. It wasn’t about them. It was about the team and its goals.

“He coached without regard to individual accolades or for himself either,” said Rousseau. “There were no plaques on his wall for whatever number of coach of the year awards he won. He didn’t care. He just wanted us to win together.”

Rocheleau also was asked to switch to defense while in high school. He says Boucher saw the need to help make players versatile.

“He saw what individuals could do, and he kept pushing them and pushing them so there was no slacking,” said Rocheleau. “If you had potential, he was going to get that out of you.”

Rocheleau is in his third year at Massabesic and was at Bonny Eagle before that. Coming from a program of excellence and learning from a coach that was demanding but also caring shaped him as a coach.

“He’s just been a major influence for me,” said Rocheleau. “What I tried to do is take his philosophies and his ways of coaching. Pretty much a lot of it is going back to basics. That’s how you win games. I’ve tried to take a lot of that in my teaching.”

Guerin recalls the meticulousness with with Boucher prepared the team. Sometimes it wasn’t hockey drills he focused on but how the team presented itself. He made sure the jerseys were worn properly, and the team demonstrated class. To this day, while teammates, stand lazily during the national anthem, Guerin stands at attention, holding his gear as Boucher had instructed.

“Most coaches don’t really care, just as long as you play well,” said Guerin. “With him, you had to look good to play good. He always made sure jerseys weren’t untucked. He was concerned about appearance because he wanted to bring forth a great image of the school. That’s what it was really about because we were representing St. Dom’s.”

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