Prince George, BC, was a fun place to watch some hockey in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The WHL Cougars junior team had such a big defence, with the likes Zdeno Chara, Eric Brewer, Joel Kwiatkowski and Derek Boogaard, who played a lot on the blue line back then. They all went on to the NHL. Chara would prove to be the best, but Smithers, BC native Dan Hamhuis, another future NHLer, came a long a bit after those giants and probably proved to be the best defenseman to play in PG.
Another really popular player back then was a forward named Tyler Bouck. Like the pulp mill town itself, Bouck was a blue collar hustler and grinder and the fans adored his work ethic. His jersey would be seen in store windows hanging with pride.
And with good reason. Not only did he represent PG, but also Canada. Twice he represented Canada at the World Juniors, winning a silver in 1999 and a bronze in 2000.
Dallas drafted Bouck 57th overall in 1998. In his professional rookie season he played with the Stars for 48 games, but barely made an impact with just 2 goals. The next season he was traded to Phoenix, but only played 7 games with them. He was destined for the minor leagues.
At the time the young Bouck did not know how to handle the adversity, but it was a great life lesson for him.
"It's frustrating because I started the year with Dallas my first year and kind of expected big things," he said. "And that didn't happen. As a young guy, that was tough to get over. You just have to keep going and work through it.
"When I first got sent down . . . it bugged me and affected my game. Now, I just try to put that out of my mind and control what I can control. You go to the rink the same every day. It's a job that's better than going to work nine to five someplace. You can't complain no matter where you're playing."
Bouck never quit working, and it paid off when the Vancouver Canucks acquired him late in 2001 as part of a deal that saw Todd Warriner and Trevor Letowski join the team for Drake Berehowsky and Denis Pederson. Bouck would find a home with the Canucks farm team in Manitoba, proving to be a popular player in Winnipeg
But Bouck would also get a chance to return to the NHL, playing in parts of three seasons with the Canucks 4th line. He would diligently patrol his wing, hit hard when he was on the forecheck and even answered the bell a couple of times. Ultimately he was not the most memorable or even appreciated player in Canucks history, but he did a good job under the circumstances. He even chipped in a couple of goals.
He made favorable impressions among his teammates.
"I really like the way he plays," veteran Canuck Trevor Linden said. "Aggressive forechecker, likes to hit, good skater, has some skill. He's my type of player."
Bouck kept a great perspective on his job with the Canucks.
"I think the biggest thing I want to do is just make sure I'm noticed out there by getting hits and using my speed and letting them know I want to be here," Bouck said. "Most likely I will go back down to Manitoba, but I want them to know that I'm a guy they can call on."
The years in the Canucks organization were not necessarily easy for Bouck. When he first arrived he battled a devastating groin injury. When he got healthier flashier prospects seemed to get the call-ups, and the Canucks team depth limited the opportunities to play.
"It is frustrating when you don't get those chances," Bouck said. "But you're always going to work hard and try to impress them to get that shot. You question yourself and what you've got to do. It's tough because you can look at other teams and places and say: 'Maybe I'd fit in there or fit in there.' But it doesn't really matter because I'm a Vancouver Canuck and there's no point looking at other teams and thinking where you'd fit in because there's no chance to go to those places. You play the hand your dealt and that's what I'm doing."
Bouck never really did stick in the NHL. Which was too bad, because he was a good guy. He was a poor man's Adam Graves, which was probably by design. As an 11 year old Bouck had a chance to caddy for Graves at an Edmonton Oilers charity golf tournament. Graves took a liking to the kid and always kept in touch with him and even trained with him in the summer times. Bouck was very much Graves' understudy.
Bouck was always appreciative of Graves.
"Would I be here without him? Probably not," said Bouck. "He showed me what it took to be at this level."
In 91 NHL games Tyler Bouck scored 4 goals and 12 points. He returned to the minor leagues following his last stint in Vancouver. He then headed to Europe to extend his professional career, joining Ingolstadt of the German league.