By Bryan Zollman – Let’s Play Hockey Publisher
Henry Boucha’s unique talent and story made him a Minnesota hockey treasure
The State of Hockey is in mourning as they have lost one of their most beloved members.
Henry Boucha, a dynamic force on the ice and a soft-spoken, kind-hearted soul off it, died Monday at age 72.
Boucha grew up on the snowdrift streets of Warroad, now dubbed Hockeytown USA. It was there he learned to love the game that would eventually lead to a professional career.
By the time he was in eighth grade he was skating for the high school team. As a senior he would lead them to the state title game in 1969 against Edina. That season he scored 60 goals in 25 games and finished with 95 points. Unfortunately, during the second period of the state title game, Boucha took a hit from an opponent that ruptured his ear drum. He never returned and Edina won 5-4 in overtime.
Years later, Boucha told the Star Tribune: “Me getting hurt was just as much my fault. I had my head down. It wasn’t a clean hit, but years later you kind of learn to keep your head up. Out to get me? Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t.”
Boucha was that kind of player. Big, strong, fast and with a lethal shot. He was one of the rare players where fans scooted to the edge of their seats, even rose, every time he had the puck on his stick.
After high school he joined the Winnipeg Jets of the WCJHL scoring 53 points in 51 games. He also toiled with the U.S. National team in 1970 and 1971. When the NHL’s 1971 draft rolled around, Boucha was snagged in the second round, 16th overall, by the Detroit Red Wings. That same year he was chosen first overall in the WHA by the Minnesota Fighting Saints.
During the 1971-72 season, wearing his trademark red head band, he played 16 games with the Red Wings and scored one goal. He had better luck with the 1972 USA Olympic team where he helped lead them to a silver medal with two goals and four assists in six games.
During the 1972-73 season he returned to the NHL’s Red Wings and played in a career-high 73 games, notching 14 goals and 14 assists and 82 penalty minutes, earning him the team’s rookie of the year award. That same year he scored the second fastest goal in NHL history when he netted one just six seconds into the game.
The following season he played in 70 games scoring a career-high 19 goals.
But the Red Wings sent him home to Minnesota in 1974 for Danny Grant and Boucha joined his hometown North Stars. It was with the North Stars where he would suffer an injury that would cut his career short.
During a game against the Boston Bruins on Jan. 4, 1975, Boucha and Dave Forbes had fought and were sent to the penalty box. Upon their return to the ice, Forbes chased Boucha down and punched him with the butt end of his stick, catching his right eye. Boucha fell to the ice. He would eventually lose sight in his eye and although trying to make a comeback with the Fighting Saints and eventually the Colorado Rockies, he retired from the game at age 26.
Boucha eventually dabbled in business ventures including owning a restaurant, writing an autobiography and selling real estate. An Ojibwe, he championed other native American athletes and was working with others on a documentary featuring 21 Native American athletes who competed in the Olympics. His heritage became a big part of him after his playing career ended.
“After hockey I found myself in my culture, my traditions, my spirituality,” Boucha told The Circle News in 2020. “I want young Native Americans to find this strength that we all have been given but don’t always recognize.”
He served on many boards for many causes, many of them committed to Native American culture. He recently testified before a legislative committee at the state capitol voicing his support for the Warroad school programs to keep their Warrior name and logo.
Always a common sight around the state hockey tournament, Boucha was always willing to shake a hand, take a photo and sign an autograph.
He was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995.
A warrior to the end, Henry Boucha was a one-of-a-kind player with a one-of-a-kind story.
A career cut short, yet a life well lived.